Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 9 August 2020

Taliban turmoil bodes ill for Afghanistan’s future

Shaukat Qadir looks at the way ahead for Afghanistan now that Mullah Omer is confirmed dead.
Can president Ashraf Ghani restore normality in Afghanistan? Massoud Hossaini / AP Photo
Can president Ashraf Ghani restore normality in Afghanistan? Massoud Hossaini / AP Photo

The most recent set of rumours of Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s death had been around since March. Each time they came up, they were denied. The ­final attempt to scotch the rumours came in mid-July when a pre-Eid message was issued in which Omar was said to support talks between Taliban officials and the Afghan government.

The farce continued until the Afghan government broke the news at the end of last month that Omar had, in fact, died two years ago in Pakistan.

Although president Ashraf Ghani hailed the news, saying it would make success in the Taliban talks more likely, I am sure he realised that the opposite was true. With Omar dead, there would be an inevitable fight for succession that would almost certainly prohibit meaningful talks in the near future.

Why then should the Afghan government announce his death and underscore the fact that it had occurred in Pakistan? Was it to imply that Pakistan had been privy to this information but had kept it from becoming public?

Domestic problems are forcing Mr Ghani to assume an unusually hard line towards Pakistan.

His office’s disclosure about Omar has merely added to these domestic difficulties and made it increasingly difficult for Pakistan to help him out – which is what I suggested.

Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, Omar’s most recent deputy, has been hastily appointed to the Taliban’s inner council of seven members, and is seen by many as his likely successor.

However, Omar’s immediate family has rejected Mullah Mansoor’s appointment and supported the appointment of Muhammad Yaqoob, Omar’s son. But even the family is not united, with many supporting Abdul Mannan, a former Taliban spokesman and a close blood relation. Mr Mannan’s backers do support a hereditary system but feel that Mr Yaqoob is too young.

As if that were not enough, Muhammad Tayyab Agha, the head of the all-important Taliban office in Qatar, has resigned over the continuing controversy of succession.

While Islamabad is officially silent and is, apparently, of the view that this issue is an internal one for the Taliban, many observers feel that Pakistan’s involvement might become inevitable. I certainly hope that is untrue, otherwise the uncertainty might not merely prolong, but the situation might even intensify. Afghans, including the Taliban, do not welcome interference.

The joker in the pack is India which, due to this uncertainty, the lack of initial success of Mr Ghani’s bold policy decisions, and the background role of former president Hamid Karzai, has again found the possibility of a role for itself in the future of Afghan.

I hope Pakistan stays out of the emerging chaos and allows India to trip over its own feet, rather than become active to counter India and suffer a similar fate.

Anyway, the most obvious outcome of this development is that no negotiations are possible until the world knows who speaks for whom.

But that is the least of our worries at the moment. If developments in Kabul are forcing Mr Ghani to adopt an aggressive position towards Pakistan, the announcement of Omar’s death is forcing the Taliban to pursue an even more aggressive policy.

Whoever Omar’s successor might be, he will need to stamp his authority by force and, to do so, will naturally be more aggressive towards the Afghan government.

The Murree Accord that led to the recent talks came at a critical juncture and seemed to hold out some hope of reunifying Omar’s Taliban and the Haqqani insurgent group, with whom the Afghan government was also negotiating. But the announcement of Omar’s death under controversial circumstances, and the ensuing discord over succession, has served to create even more space for the hardliners who claim to represent ISIL.

In this cauldron, it is virtually impossible to identify who is responsible for what. Earlier, even though incursions into each other’s area of operation occurred, these were few and far between and, when they did occur, it did not take long to identify the real perpetrators.

Some months ago, it seemed that everything was falling into place so as to offer Mr Ghani a place of respect in Afghan history. All of a sudden, it seems that circumstances will ensure that he fails. And, if he does not succeed, the future of the region appears stark indeed.

The US and its western allies are understandably tiring of Afghanistan. It may, therefore, be time for China to take the lead. It is the sole world power that could still be credited with a degree of impartiality by the Afghan people.

But China cannot do it alone. It will need proactive assistance from the US. And any such venture might meet with opposition from the powerful political forces in Kabul that have been successfully undermining Mr Ghani’s initiatives. Those forces have the support of India, which will not be easily ousted from Afghanistan.

But no outside nation can be of any assistance whatsoever unless Mr Ghani wants their help. Does he have it in him? All I can say is that if Mr Ghani does not succeed this time, I see little light at the end of the tunnel.

Brig Shaukat Qadir is a retired Pakistani infantry officer

Updated: August 22, 2015 04:00 AM

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