Top secret reconciliation talks between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and key Taliban leaders, which many hoped might lead to a political solution to end the war, has fallen apart because U.S. and Pakistani officials have failed to see eye-to-eye on which elements of the Taliban should be invited to participate in negotiations versus those deemed “irreconcilable”.
According to China’s Xinhua News Agency, Pakistan offered up the Haqqani Network, however, the U.S. rejected the plan because they consider the Haqqanis their fiercest enemies. American diplomats even “questioned Pakistan’s wisdom”, wondering how a group so tightly entwined with Al Qaeda like the Haqqanis could ever be considered “reconcilable”.
While the U.S. has been pressing Pakistan’s military to eliminate Haqqani “safe havens” in North Waziristan, Pakistan has been reluctant to do so because not only does it think the U.S. is leaving town mid-2011 but Pakistan has had a close relationship with the Haqqanis for over 30 years and still see them as a crucial anti-Indian asset. And as I wrote in The Huffington Post in July, there is a higher probability of General Kayani converting to Hinduism than there is of the Haqqani Network ever being decoupled from Al Qaeda. I also wrote:
According to the Long War Journal, Siraj Haqqani, their leader, sits on Al Qaeda’s decision-making body. Haqqani’s friendship with Osama bin Laden dates back to the war against the Soviets in the 1980s and it was Haqqani that ensured safe passage into Pakistan for many Al Qaeda figures after the collapse of the Taliban in 2001. An Institute for the Study of War analysis concluded that Haqqani was “irreconcilable” and negotiations with him would actually strengthen Al Qaeda and would undermine the raison d’etre for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan over the past decade.
Xinhua also reported that Rustam Shah Mohmand, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, urged Pakistan not to take such drastic action, warning: “If Pakistan, for the sake of 2 billion dollars in U.S. aid, attacks the Haqqani network, it will have to face serious consequences.”
Although Karzai actually wanted to talk to the Haqqanis, the U.S. forced him to, instead, hold a meeting two weeks ago with three former Taliban leaders, Abdul Kabir, Sedre Azama and Anwarul Haq Mujahed, who were flown to Kabul from Peshawar to discuss how to lessen the influence of the Haqqani Network. As a result of the meeting, Afghan authorities agreed to release some top Taliban commanders in exchange for envoy to Pakistan Abdul Khaliq Farahi who had been kidnapped by militants in 2008 from Peshawar.
According to an editorial in Pakistan’s Daily Times, the U.S. is attempting to employ General David Petraeus’s favored “tribal in-roading technique” to split the Haqqani network — a method used by the NATO commander to enlist Sunni tribes in Iraq to fight the resistance. Because the aformentiioined Abudl Kabir belongs to the same Zadran tribe as the Haqqanis it appears the U.S. is trying to instigate intra-tribal conflict and destabilize their network to ensure a smooth U.S. withdrawal. Meanwhile, the recent intercepted explosive packages alleged to be the handiwork of the Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen also reinforces the logic of working against the Al Qaeda-linked Haqqanis, which will also strengthen Mullah Omar’s position in a post-withdrawal Afghanistan.
Thomas Ruttig from the Afghanistan Analysts Network corroborates this strategy in his blog based on a story from the AP’s Kathy Gannon yesterday, who reported that U.S. and Afghan officials hope that if Kabir quits the insurgency it could split the Zadran tribe, undercut the Haqqani network’s pool of recruits and help shift the power balance in the eastern provinces.
Ruttig also provides information that validates America’s divisive intentions, although he seems suspect as to the strategy’s feasibility. Yet, he at least lends credence to the assumption that the Quetta Shura and Haqqani Network should be easy enough to divide as their alliance, historically, seems tenuous at best:
lso Maulawi Kabir’s influence on it might be limited. After all, he has never really operated in the Southeast and therefore in the Dzadran areas. While he was reported for a while as trying to establish parallel ‘Quetta Shura’ Taleban structures in Loya Paktia around the middle of this decade (and Sedrazam was with him), this either failed or was stopped by Quetta in October 2007 in order to not upset the Haqqanis who are valuable, although not completely trusted allies. (After all, Haqqani Senior’s jihad history is much longer and more impressive than Mulla Omar’s and he was kept at arm’s length from Kandahar as minister for border affairs in the Kabul-based Interim Shura during the Taleban regime.)
This strategy makes sense if the galactic assumption is true that Mullah Omar can permanently be decoupled from Al Qaeda and transnational terrorist plots will most likely not be hatched under his domain. Evidence exists to support this possibility as pointed out in a recent New York Times piece by anthropologist Scott Atran who wrote how veteran correspondent Arnaud de Borchgrave, who met with Mullah Omar shortly before 9/11, was “stunned by the hostility” the mullah expressed for Osama bin Laden and his Arabs.
Even if true, however, time is running out because the bigger evil might be the emerging “Neo-Taliban” who many see as a pure tool of the ISI. Atran describes them as 20-somethings who come straight out of the madrasas who aren’t anything like your father’s Taliban warrior:
These younger commanders and their fiercely loyal fighters are increasingly removed from the dense networks of tribal kinship and patronage, or qawm, and especially of friendship born of common experiences, or andiwali, that bind together the top figures in the established insurgent groups like the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network. Indeed, it is primarily through andiwali — overlapping bonds of family, schooling, years together in camps, combat service, business partnership — that talks between the adversaries, including representatives of Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, and Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s ultimate leader, have continued over the years.
They’re increasingly independent, ruthless and unwilling to compromise with foreign infidels, and claim they will fight to the death as long as any foreign soldiers remain, even if only in military bases. Hence, Atran believes the U.S. would fare a much better chance of convincing the old school Taliban to cut ties with Al Qaeda – and even offer some sort of guarantee that President Karzai won’t be left hanging from a lamppost when the Americans leave (as President Muhammad Najibullah, the puppet Afghan leader of the 1980s, was after the Soviets fled) – than they would with the young guns who exhibit no potential for being “reconcilable”.
(Michael Hughes is a journalist and foreign policy strategist for the New World Strategies Coalition (NWSC), a think tank founded by Afghan natives focused on developing political, economic and cultural solutions for Afghanistan. Mr. Hughes writes regularly for The Huffington Post and his work has appeared in CNN.com and Ruse the magazine. Michael graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in History).
NOTE:This is a cross post from examiner.com