In a significant development following an apparent shift in the US policy vis-à-vis Afghanistan, a key insurgent group led by a former warlord said that it’s willing to pursue “direct or indirect” talks with the United States without any preconditions.
However, the deadliest of all Afghan militant factions – the Haqqani network – remains adamant on its previous stance, with its commander reiterating on Tuesday that they would not take part individually in any peace talks.
These developments came days after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton openly sought Pakistan’s help to reach out to all insurgent groups for a political settlement of the decade-long war in Afghanistan.
A senior leader of Gulbudin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami militant group has said that it is to enter into peace talks with the US. “We are willing to have a direct or indirect political dialogue with Washington,” Dr Ghairat Baheer told The Express Tribune. However, he hastened to add that such a dialogue must take place in a country other than the US and Afghanistan. Asked if Hizb-e-Islami would accept Islamabad’s role as an intermediary, Dr Baheer said that Pakistan’s role in any future talks would be vital.
Dr Baheer, who is also son-in-law of Hekmatyar, said that before any dialogue took place, the United States would have to establish its seriousness to a political settlement of the Afghan imbroglio.
Dr Baheer was held by US forces in extrajudicial detention for over six years at different facilities in Afghanistan and the US, including the infamous Guantanamo Bay.
He denied Western media reports that Washington had rejected an earlier peace overture of his group. “We never attempted to hold negotiations with the United States on our own,” he said.
Hizb-e-Islami has been fighting the US-led Nato troops in Afghanistan. And at the same time the group is also actively involved in the Afghan politics. Some of the group’s former fighters hold portfolios in President Karzai’s cabinet. The speaker of the Afghan Wolosi Jirga, lower house of parliament, Abdul Rahoof Ibrahimi, who is an ethnic Uzbek from the Kunduz province, is a former Hizb leader.
‘Waste of time’
In the meanwhile the Haqqani network has said that it is a part of the Taliban movement and hence not mandated to broker peace with the US individually. “We consider that trying to invite individuals or fighting groups for peace talks other than the Taliban Shura would be waste of time,” a Haqqani commander told Reuters by phone from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan.
“They (the Americans) would not be able to find a possible solution to the Afghan conflict until and unless they hold talks with the Taliban Shura,” said the commander, referring to the Taliban leadership council (Quetta Shura).
But the Haqqani commander viewed Secretary Clinton’s talks offer with skepticism. “This is not the first time the US has approached us for peace talks. The Americans had made several such attempts for talks which we rejected as we are an integral part of the Taliban-led by Mullah Mohammad Omar,” he told Reuters by phone from somewhere in Afghanistan. (Additional input from Reuters)
Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2011.