KARACHI: While US President Barack Obama’s administration and its protégé in Kabul are desperately trying to make peace with the Taliban, a female Afghan lawmaker claimed on Friday that she had met the reclusive Taliban commander Mullah Muhammad Omar near the Afghan capital just over a fortnight ago. However, the Taliban publicly deny that any such meeting took place.
Homa Sultani, a member of the Wolesi Jirga – the lower house of Afghan parliament – from the restive Ghazni province, said that she had met the Taliban leader twice in over a year in Afghanistan. “The first time I met Mullah Omar was around a year ago in the Helmand province,” Sultani told The Express Tribune by phone from Kabul. “I’d told him that I wanted to mediate between him and the administration of President Hamid Karzai,” she added.
“The second time I met him 16 or 17 days ago at a place some 150 kilometres from Kabul. I spread my headscarf for him on the floor and he sat on it,” said Sultani, former head of the Afghan Human Rights Association. The last meeting took place at a well-guarded house and at least a dozen senior Taliban commanders were accompanying Mullah Omar, she added.
Sultani said that Mullah Omar was also pained to see the destruction and human suffering in Afghanistan. “I presented my peace proposals before Mullah Omar and he accepted them. He called me ‘sister’ and mandated me to mediate on his behalf,” Sultani claimed.
Though there is no way to authenticate Sultani’s claim, but, if true, this would put to rest all allegations from US and Afghan officials that the one-eyed Taliban leader was hiding somewhere in Pakistan.
Asked if she met Mullah Omar alone, Sultani said, “No, Mullah Abdul Baseer, a former Taliban commander, accompanied me in both meetings. It was, in fact, a relative of Mullah Baseer who had arranged the meetings at my request.” She said Mullah Baseer is an elder of the same Ghalizai (Khilji) tribe to which Mullah Omar belongs.
Sultani said that she had met President Karzai two days before her meeting with Mullah Omar and that he had given the go-ahead for the peace initiative. However, after the meeting the Karzai administration backed down on its commitment.
Sultani claimed that she also has a handwritten letter having an endorsement from President Karzai and ‘signatures’ of Mullah Omar. “I showed the letter, written in Dari language, to journalists at a news conference in Kabul today,” she told The Express Tribune.
The journalists apparently laughed off her claim.
“Mullah Omar has sworn to me that if my peace initiative was rejected, he will never engage in any peace process. ‘You are my sole mediator,’” Sultani quoted Mullah Omar as telling her.
She refused to divulge details of her peace proposals saying that she would disclose them if the coalition countries or the Karzai administration approached her.
However, the Taliban dismissed Sultani’s meeting as a fraud. “It will take more than a woman’s scarf to bring peace,” a Taliban spokesperson said. The Taliban have publicly maintained they will not enter into any negotiations as long as foreign troops are in Afghanistan.
President Karzai’s office was not immediately available for comment. Presidential spokesperson Waheed Omar was not picking up his phone despite repeated attempts.
Despite the denials and scepticism, however, some analysts are still willing to believe Sultani’s account and deem her mediation offer to be credible.
“Sultani is a responsible woman and I think she would have not made such a claim, if she had not met Mullah Omar,” Asif Nang, a Kabul-based political analyst told The Express Tribune by phone. “The Karzai administration must take her seriously.”
But at the same time he said that most Afghans believe that Mullah Omar is hiding somewhere in Pakistan. “Perhaps, that is why the Afghan media is not taking Sultani seriously,” Nang said.
Sultani’s claim coincided with the start of the drawdown of foreign troops from Afghanistan. The first batch of 650 US troops flew out of the Afghan province of Parwan on Wednesday. President Obama has decided to pull out about a third of 100,000 US troops from Afghanistan during the next year.
Meanwhile, US officials and the Afghan High Peace Council are trying desperately to engage the Taliban in talks to find a solution to the war in Afghanistan. But it appears that they are very cautious before trusting anybody offering mediation in the peace talks.
Last year, an Afghan shopkeeper had engaged in talks with Nato officials impersonating as senior Taliban commander Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour. He swindled millions of dollars from Nato officials and disappeared.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2011.