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February 10, 2019

Watch out - Afghan Taliban rule of 1994 striking back

Lahore

February 10, 2019

I was posted as Director FIA at Peshawar in 1992, during the regime of Nawaz Sharif. At the same time, Anwar Zahid being the Principal Secretary to the PM was playing political and administrative shots. As a result of which the government of Gulbadin Hekmatyar as PM, and Mullah Rabbani as President was installed to run the national government in Afghanistan. Anwar Zahid remained in contact with me during this transition in Afghanistan. I had the chance to meet both (Hekmatyar and Mullah Rabbani) and I realised that both were not on one page.

This coalition government, however, could not work well because of political friction between both of them. The government was failing and it was like civil disobedience in whole Afghanistan. In the meanwhile, Mullah Umar became more active with his groups in Kandahar.

A militant group called Taliban under the leadership of Mullah Umar emerged by taking advantage of this friction between both the prime minister and the president. By that time, I was already transferred to the FIA HQ by the caretaker government of Mr Moeen Qureshi. I was posted as Director Immigration & Anti- Smuggling with additional special assignments of probing into white collar crimes to control the illegal emigration from Pakistan.

Consequent to general elections, Gen Naseerullah Babar took over as interior minister and he attached me to his office in addition to my official duties. By virtue of my official associations with the interior minister, I noticed that he had a special interest in resolving the Afghan issue. Gulbadin Hekmatyar, Ahmed Shah Masood, Mullah Razzaq, Mullah Burjan, Mullah Omer were close to Gen Naseerullah Babar. I met Hekmatyar and Mullah Rabbani in Peshawar and knew some background and undercurrents within the Afghan leadership.

In the meantime, Hekmatyar found his way of friendship with Osama bin Laden in early 1990s, but later on fall apart when he noticed Osama bin Laden has gone close to the emerging faction of Mullah Umar. On the other hand, Gen. Babar had also developed a fine association with the Mullah Umar group with the help of the then intelligence wheeler and dealers which made him closer to the founder of Taliban; Mullah Umar.

One evening, I received a call of Gen. Babar asking me to be in a special meeting being arranged in the Narcotics Division in Blue area. I attended the said meeting and met Mullah Umar with Gen Babar, thereafter the Taliban under Mullah Umar gave their first appearance in Kandahar. When Gen. Babar took diplomats from Islamabad in C-130 to Kandahar in order to introduce the newly formed group of Afghan Taliban. A USA Ambassador was also present in the said visit/Introduction. The logistics for the meeting were arranged from Karachi and it was great lunch served to the visitors in Kandahar and then the world saw the emergence of the rule of Mullah Umar under Taliban.

I also experienced a strict grip of Taliban in Jalalabad and Kabul while going in exile via Afghanistan under disguise after a serious attempt on my life in Islamabad. I travelled with a well-known journalist from Peshawar.

Mullah Umar despite being a leader of small faction had declared himself as the founder of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in 1996. The Taliban chose him as “Amir ul Momineen” (Commander of the Faithful/the Supreme Leader of the Muslims).

I would like to give a brief history of Mullah Omer for the readers. He was born in a poor family and had absolutely no political connections. His father died when he as was too young, his uncles raised him. After the 1978 Soviet Revolution in Afghanistan, he was sent to Karachi in 1979 to study at the Jamia Uloom-ul-Islamia along with other children. After the Soviet invasion, the family moved to Tarinkot in Urozgan province and young Umar was left to feed the family. He was unemployed so he became the mullah and established his own madrassa in a mud hut with few cows.

In the very beginning, he fought as a rebel soldier with the anti-Soviet Mujahedeen under the command of Naek Mohammad of the Hizb-e-Islami (Khalis). He later moved again back to a mosque in Karachi where he used to lead prayers. Soon after the Soviet left Afghanistan, he started his movement with less than 50-armed madrassa students from Afghanistan and subsequently raised 12000 recruits under his command.

I had never thought that this simple man I was meeting in a black turban would emerge as Emir of Taliban and even powerful Haqqani Network will also become subservient to him.

Osama bin Laden met Mullah Umar on return from Sudan and pledged his loyalty to him and created a point strategy between al-Qaeda and Taliban. Umar became a top wanted leader of Taliban by the US government after being accused of providing shelter to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda militants after the September 11 attacks whereas Mullah Umar continued his rule through his following cabinet members Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as (Deputy leader), Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar as (Deputy leader), Maulavi Abdul Kabir as (Governor of Nangarhar), Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa as (Governor of Herat province and Minister of the Interior), Mullah Ubaidullah as (Defence Minister, Deputy Chief), Maulavi Ahmad Jan as (Governor of Zabul province). His rule was recognised by UAE, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

The Afghan Taliban remained organised and continued to fight with Americans and even with their installed Afghan government. Even the most equipped international armies could not eliminate them. Many of the cabinet members of Mullah Umar were arrested after the USA attack on Afghanistan. Most of them were taken blindfolded to Guantanamo Bay where they were tortured to the core but the determination of Taliban could not be shaken.

The USA was forced to decide to come on the table and Pakistan played its role in bringing the Taliban on the table on various locations including Jeddah, Germany, China, Pakistan, UAE and then finally Qatar. The latest dialogues were held between USA and Taliban in Abu Dhabi followed by a well-published meeting in Qatar. The US delegation headed by Khalil Zalmay met Taliban delegation headed by Mullah Baradar and Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef who had earlier been tortured in the USA torture cell in Guantanamo Bay.

In the said meeting, they discussed a potential prisoner exchange and a ceasefire that will eventually lead to the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. It is pertinent to note that the Taliban were less flexible in their demands and approach sensing that the USA was in hurry to stuck a deal with them at the earliest. The Taliban deliberately exploited the weaknesses of the USA in their favour in terms of taking a tough stance.

It seems US is now inching closer to accepting the Taliban’s main demand which is focused on withdrawal of US troops as the Trump Administration has decided to withdraw half of its 14000 troops from Afghanistan.

The second and third rounds of the talks were held in January to work out the transition of power following by yet another meeting in April 2019. Taliban did not offer anything in return so far to American except insisting on their demand to expedite the early exit of USA Army. They even refused to talk to the Afghan government.

Pakistan has played its laudable and highly appreciable role in getting these negotiations to move forward to a conclusion. The credit of this impossible task goes to Gen Bajwa & his team for providing help and support to both USA and Taliban in pushing the situation converging for a doable solution for the peace agreement, which is likely to become a reality very soon.

We are feeling a positive change in the tone of the American administration and President Donald Trump for Pakistan and the success of this peace process will enhance Pak image worldwide.

I have been advocating in all the local & international forums for the last many years that Afghanistan will become peaceful only once American Army leaves Afghanistan once and for all. I have stated on record that the USA will have no choice except to leave Afghanistan one day.

Now Donald Trump can be actually seen under terrible pressure of withdrawal of US Army because of his own growing issue vis-a-vis Mueller enquiry including outcry of the general public over wasteful expenditure in this clueless war without any achievement. The US administration is making efforts to bring an interim government in Afghanistan, which is not up to the liking of the present government of Afghanistan. The entry of former president Karzai in this process with Afghan Taliban could be strong indicator for future coalition government between Karzai and the Taliban. Karzai had been trying for this coalition with good Taliban while he was the president of Afghanistan.

It looks that President Ashraf Ghani might be isolated whereas the lead may be taken by ex-president Karzai with some other factions including Gen Dostam.

In this scenario, Russia may get some role to reach over to some arrangements of a power-sharing formula. It will all depend on how much support Karzai has from Americans as he had lost the American support in the last days of his government.

This war crept in our country too via TTP and this American war had caused a heavy loss to our economy of over $120 billion. Our mosques, schools, colleges, universities and public and private institutions were attacked. Almost one hundred and fifty children were butchered in a single attack at army public school in Peshawar. Minorities have been targeted several times and it also deteriorated our country image at the global level.

Pakistan has suffered both with blame game and drones as it has been supporting the Americans in this war yet it had to keep on justifying its position vis-a-vis alleged backing of factions of Taliban. We have always returned from Washington along with a pile of these allegations and do more demands. I hope the peace in Afghanistan will give a sigh of relief to the people of Pakistan.

The USA has been able to convince the Taliban to accept its demand of retaining at least two military bases, Bagram and Shorabak to continue under the control of the USA, which is a strong indicator that Americans have decided to hand over the control of Afghanistan to Taliban on 'give and take' basis. On the other hand, however, the Taliban have been firm on its demands of complete withdrawal of USA forces from Afghanistan to bring back Taliban rule in their country following Mullah Umar's ideology.

The world is still confused as to why the USA attacked Afghanistan in the first place when the majority of the international community had advised American not to attack Afghanistan. I am witness to these efforts while being in exile. Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was also not in favour of the attack on Afghanistan and I on her advice took initiative through an ambassador (a prominent leader) and close Saudi leadership in this context. He was also close to many cabinet members of Mullah Umar.

The said friend and representatives of Europe and America met in Bahrain where I was also present. Europe was against the attack and even Saudi Arabia was not in favour of this attack where a sufficient room was created for negotiation to block the attack.

We both were told after 48 hrs in the evening by European representative that the USA has declined the offer of Taliban and USA has decided to attack Afghanistan what come may. I can say with authority that the USA was predetermined to attack exactly the same way it attacked on Iraq on false intelligence. I am a personal witness to many developments during the said period too.

I wish the USA had agreed to the proposal of negotiation with Afghan Taliban before attacking Afghanistan as it would have saved them from these non-ending sufferings. Next day, I went to Dubai and briefed Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto about the decision of Americans attack on Afghanistan and she was equally disappointed to learn about it. One week later, the world witnessed the USA attack on Afghanistan.

The world powers had some other motives and thereafter we saw the entire Muslim world in trouble with Arab spring, Libyan fall, Egyptian debacle and finally the fall of Iraq and then civil war in Syria.

I see now the same stakeholders and same countries have entered in this game of mediating between Taliban and world powers. I see replication of abrupt withdrawal of USA Army again in this region. Let us see how the same old script written a long time ago by CIA, is implemented this time. President Donald Trump is apparently looking determined to pull out the forces after loss of 7000 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan as the American public will not allow more deaths of American soldiers abroad.

The world will soon witness the recognition of coalition Taliban government where the major stakeholder/winners will be those Taliban who have remained under the custody of American soldiers in the past.

Unfortunately, despite the expected Taliban coalition government, the biggest challenge for the Taliban government would be to contain the influence and presence of Daesh, which has already been planted in Afghanistan. Unlike past, this time a well-established, comparatively more powerful and well-energised Daesh is going to be left behind which may emerge in this region as a more lethal power than al-Qaeda.

This phenomenon would not only be dangerous for Pakistan, but for the whole region including China. It is yet to be seen whether the Taliban would join hands with Daesh or there may be yet another guerrilla war to be initiated by Daesh.

Coming to the role of Pakistan in establishing peace, I have been watching the developments in this peace process very closely and let us admit that General Qamar Javed Bajwa has played a role of silent mediator behind the scene & it was his skillful management which has brought the ever irked Taliban to the negotiation table.

It looks that General Bajwa has been successful in convincing all the stake holders including the USA that peace in Afghanistan is important for Pakistan.

I also happen to know Zalmay Khalilzad personally who is a capable diplomat and I feel that he is on the same page with Pakistan on this issue as he knows this region well and he has on record appreciated the role of Pakistan. I wish him success in his noble peace mission.

Pakistan strongly believes that, wars bring “death, destruction and misery” for the people. Ultimately, all issues are to be resolved on the table through negotiations and all the appreciation goes to Gen Bajwa for bringing the Taliban on the table with hope to have peace in this region.

Pakistan is fighting against militancy at different fronts therefore, let us not forget India, which is always there to use cold doctrine against Pakistan and partly against China. Let us hope that we also adopt a doable strategy to convince TTP to give up violence and join in the mainstream & work for our lovely Pakistan to make it peaceful and prosperous.

These are my personal views and do not necessarily represent the views of my party.

More over Let us hope and pray to see this region free of any further “American Doctrine”.

The writer is Chairman of think tank "global eye" & former interior minister of Pakistan. @Email: [email protected] .com, Twitter @Senrehmanmalik, @GlobalEye_GSA, WhatsApp +923325559393

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