While the authenticity of the message Mullah Omar reportedly sent out for Eidul Fitr is yet to be established, I believe that it is authentic and from it can be gleaned indications that he is willing to negotiate and appreciates that power must be shared with other Afghan groups. There is also an acknowledgement that talks have taken place, but these, he maintains, have been for the release of prisoners. Let me just say that if we talk to Mullah Omar, as I have recommended, our arguments will not fall on deaf ears.
Turning next to other groups. The recently reported Eid message from Hekmatyar, rejecting talks, was to be expected despite the fact that his Hezb-i-Islami has members in the Afghan parliament; his supporters have joined Afghan local police forces in Kunduz and elsewhere, and have engaged in combat with the Taliban; his delegations have been talking to Karzai’s people; and his son-in-law, Ghairat Baheer, was the brain behind the famous inter-Afghan dialogue in the Maldives. His ego requires that no matter how small his base of support, he will play the role of spoiler if he does not have a lead role. He is, by my reckoning, a big player in the insurgency in Afghanistan. He has to be told only that Pakistan is supportive of reconciliation and would advise him to participate on whatever terms he can work out with the other Afghans.
For some Americans and Afghans, the most important insurgency movement is the Haqqani network. The American annual report on global terrorism for 2010 says that al Qaeda remains the most pre-eminent threat to the United States and attributes its continued importance to the “increased resource sharing” between al Qaeda and its Pakistan-based allies such as the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Haqqani network. The Americans have been pressuring Pakistan to take action against the sanctuary that the network enjoys in North Waziristan — a pressure Pakistan has resisted.
Recently, Pakistan based Associated Press correspondent Kathy Gannon, who I respect as a well-informed and sober correspondent, quoted two experienced western officials as saying that defeating Haqqani militarily was not possible and that American pressure on Pakistan for action in North Waziristan was designed to get Haqqani to the negotiating table. She also reported that a senior Pakistani military officer told her that Pakistan can bring the Haqqani network to the negotiating table, but added that he did not know what Haqqani could be offered in the negotiations.
Despite the recent placing of a Haqqani network leader on a terrorist list, which seemed to indicate implacable hostility towards the network, this is entirely plausible, the more so since in an even more recent report, Gannon says that the Americans have been talking to Ibrahim Haqqani, the brother of Jalaluddin Haqqani who is the titular head of the network. The question is whether Ibrahim Haqqani had Jalaluddin’s approval for his contacts with the Americans and what he had been authorised to bring to the table. What can Haqqani be offered? To my mind, if the Haqqani network does agree to substantive talks, the give and take would involve a severing of the Haqqanis’ ties with al Qaeda at the behest of the Americans and Afghans in return for being given authority in a decentralised Afghan administrative structure over the three provinces of Afghanistan — Paktia, Paktika and Khost — traditionally viewed even during Taliban rule as being under Haqqani’s sway.
What should Pakistan want? A winding up of the Haqqani network in Pakistan, the transfer of his seminary to Khost, the surrender of all the foreign militants, primarily Uzbeks, who survive in North Waziristan under Haqqani’s patronage, (such of them as have developed local ties through marriage etc. could stay, provided they were registered as had been proposed as long ago as 2005) and the severing of ties with al Qaeda but equally importantly with the TTP.
Is this pie in the sky thinking? Is the situation too complex to permit such a simplistic approach? Can we afford to adopt this approach without risking an internal confrontation that we will not be able to handle? In my concluding article, I will try and address these questions.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 7th, 2011.