The current top Taliban peace negotiator may be too inexperienced to get the job done and could be replaced.
Syed Tayyeb Agha and his team are not expected to achieve the desired results in the negotiations, a former Taliban minister told The Express Tribune. “Tayyeb Agha and all other Taliban negotiators are not seniors and lack the ability to smoothly take the dialogue process forward and deal with all sides and important players in the Afghan conflict,” he said.
Growing international pressure to come to the table has also played a part in this development as the perception is that Agha is ‘too junior’ to effectively interact with national and international stakeholders.
On the surface, though, Agha is not entirely without experience. He has served as a spokesperson to Taliban chief Mullah Omar. Last year, he acted as negotiator during the inconclusive Afghan Taliban talks with the US in Qatar. He was also involved in negotiations with the Germans and his Pakistani experience came from serving as first secretary in the Afghan embassy in Islamabad during the Taliban regime.
His ability to get this job done, however, has been under discussion for a long time, said a Taliban leader on condition of anonymity. Agha came under fire after the Taliban confirmed preliminary contacts with the US over prisoners and opening of political offices.
In June 2011, former US defence secretary Robert Gates confirmed that his country was holding ‘outreach’ talks with members of the Taliban in Afghanistan. It was the first time the US acknowledged such contact. A day prior to that statement, Afghan President Hamid Karzai had also disclosed that the US had been in contact with the Taliban. The extensive media coverage, however, strained the negotiation process.
Mullah Abbas Akhund, who was the health minister in the Taliban cabinet from 1996 to 2001, is tipped to become the next possible head of the negotiating team, the Taliban leader said, adding that a final decision has yet to be reached.
“Many Taliban leaders were unhappy over Agha’s conduct and Maulvi Abbas is a suitable man for the job,” another Taliban official, requesting not to be identified, told The Express Tribune. “He listens to everyone’s views and is approachable by Taliban officials.” Despite not being a member of the 19-member council Abbas is considered to be an influential Taliban leader.
Qari Deen Muhammad is another strong candidate. He was a member of the Taliban team that attended a seminar in Kyoto, Japan, in June 2012, the first international conference attended by them. He sat with his rival Masoom Stanekzai, a senior official of the Afghan High Peace Council.
“Qari Deen Muhammad was also made part of the negotiations to maintain an ethnic balance as he belongs to northern Afghanistan, and to dispel the impression that the Taliban are only Pashtun,” the former Taliban leader argued.
When contacted, Taliban’s spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid denied the possible replacement and dismissed the news, saying “there was no such thing”.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2013.