The Irreconcilables: Pakistan and U.S. fight over which Taliban to turn

By: Michael Hughes  

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 and Ruse the magazine. Michael graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in History).

NOTE:This is a cross post from

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  • Pagal  On November 3, 2010 at 2:34 am

    Wud either side take responsibility of the taliban it favors for reconciliation post withdrawal?

  • S U Turkman  On November 3, 2010 at 4:43 am

    Mr. Hughes writes, what ISI tells him to write so, what sounds like his opinion is opinion of ISI. The Proof is, just like ISI, he thinks, Karzai is trying to talk with Taliban to save his life so, after they take-over since Obama wants US Army to leave Afghanistan, they don’t hang him to death. Just like ISI, he does not think, Karzia could ask for Indian Army’s help and Indian Army could replace US Army.

  • Z T  On November 3, 2010 at 4:44 am

    The only taliban that has the right to rule afghanistan is the taliban that was there when the kuffar goreh gringos invaded. They were the ones that fought and took the heaviest brunt of the attack, which was based off of the US and Israel attacking the world trade center and then turning around and blaming alqaeda….

  • Z T  On November 3, 2010 at 4:44 am

    you know what i mean?

  • Sqn Ldr S. Ausaf Husain (Retd)  On November 4, 2010 at 7:50 am

    If Taliban that was there when the kuffar goreh gringos invaded takes control of Afghanistan again the ‘ Mullahism’ and self-made Islam will not only make the countyr hostage but it will also influence tribal belt in Pakistan. remember in the previous Taliban regime in Afghanistan women were treated worst than dogs and donkeys. Women were driven lake a herd of sheeps and were beaten at their hips they tried to come out from the four walls of their homes.

    The analysis by Xinhua 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.” seem correct.

  • Ayesha Khan  On November 8, 2010 at 11:45 am

    I think the first para of Hughes article says it all “…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”.” Also….”US divisive intentions” gives rise to the angst of the people against whom these strategies are targeted

    This articles simply underscores the US interference and the Pakistan involvement which many Afghans resent and oppose and which many Pukhtuns of Pakistan also resent and oppose.

    The more ruthless order of neo-taliban is the clear result of double games played by global powers and Pakistan’s short sighted foreign policies. In fact the Taliban mentality has spread in places least expected and unless and until the rulers of Pakistan and their foreign supporters walk the talk of “peoples’ welfare” the current war will continue and may even escalate.

    US as a responsible global power needs to reduce its arms production and sale of arms setting a precedence for other countries. The NATO armies, (US controlled) drone attacks, US security agencies such as Blackwater and other mercenaries have largely contributed to destabilizing Pakistan. In fact anecdotal evidence indicates that these factors have destroyed many more families than Taliban ever did or could. The US govt in its self-delusional savior mode has maimed more lives and destroyed the future of many more Pakistani children than any real enemy of Pakistan. This statement may be verified by figures that the think tank can get very easily from very basic field surveys or extrapolate from existing figures at their disposal. If the US cares about the Pakistani people it should withdraw from not just Afghanistan but also Pakistan especially it should stop building its bases in Hayatabad,Peshawar as well.

    It’s about time Western countries spoke with a modicum of truthfulness about their foreign policies and strategies vis a vis the South Asia region, the Orient and Muslim Countries. There should be no aid especially not to corrupt governments. Govt to govt talk should be of trade, business, economics and only of technology transfer in the development sector. Leave the rest to the people and its respective governments.

    I am sorry but for me the article reflects much “posing and propaganda styling” of respective governments; at this time of post 9/11 the premise of Al-Qaeda is in fact incorrect. I with many field people view it as a CIA bogey created as far back as the late 70s when Shah Faisal was assasinated and Bhutto hanged. The Iran-Iraq war was part of the great plan to divide the Muslims and it is still being actively pursued. The US government is crippled with an Islamophobic core which has derailed it from its own constitution.

    As regards Pakistan and the Haqqani Network, it is again surprisingly naive of the US govt if they expect Pakistan to change its position on matters when the causal reasons for such a strategy in the first place have not changed. I refer to matter of Kashmir and increasing Hindu extremism which has supported civil war in Sri Lanka and assasinated 2 Indian Prime Minsters and a leader like Mahatama Gandhi.

    In conclusion an interesting article which reflects the biased mind set and historically blind approach of the US government. They have clearly not learned from their field experience.

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