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Post-Mullah Omar Afghanistan: The prospects of peace and stability

By Mustansar Hussain Tasir

This research would inquire, explore and analyze the prospects, possibilities and success opportunities for developing durable peace and internal stability in Afghanistan, keeping in consideration the change in Taliban leadership, in post Mullah Omar era.

Currency of the topic

The death of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the supremo and spearhead of the Taliban Movement in Afghanistan, is an incident of great significance. The news of his death had a ripple effect on the region as well as the whole world as the dialogue process between the Afghan government and the militant group — sponsored by Pakistan, China and the United States — came to a halt. Since his demise, and the appointment of Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who is being described as a supporter of the dialogue, has stirred differences and defections among the Taliban. On the other hand the growing presence of the self-styled Islamic State (IS) in the war-torn Afghanistan is also an imminent threat to the prospects of peace and stability in the country.

At this point of time, inquiring and analyzing the prospects of peace in Afghanistan is of unprecedented vitality as major players including Afghan government, US, China, Taliban and Pakistan would have to work in tandem to make the dialogue process meaningful and result-oriented. Otherwise, the fire of instability and anarchy in Afghanistan would engulf the whole region; the apocalypse everyone wish to avoid.

Introduction

Due to fragmented society and diverse multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic groups, with rugged terrain and severe climatic conditions, Afghanistan is considered world’s one of the most complex countries. The country’s history is marked with external influences and interventions, internal power struggles, rebellions, civil wars and inter-tribal conflicts. These factors are considered one of the major reasons that Afghanistan has never been a colony of any great power despite several attempts being rightly declared the graveyard of empires. Thus peace and order have always been rare commodities in this country and so has been the prosperity. Peace and stability in Afghanistan, owing to the country’s geo-strategic and geo-economic idiosyncrasy, being gateway to resource pregnant Central Asia, is not only crucial for Pakistan being its next door neighbor sharing long, unprotected porous border and having historical, ideological, cultural and economic ties, but also for the peace, stability and prosperity of the region as a whole. As a natural outcome of ever deteriorating security situation in the war-ravaged country, no tangible socio-economic development is there to descry since US-lead NATO forces invaded this sturdy, landlocked country on October 07, 2001. With every passing day, the momentum gained by Taliban and their resilience to fight have bogged down the Americans and NATO forces. The resistance and morale of Taliban has sucked huge resources of US and its allies and has inflicted them tremendous damage of men and material. Despite the announced date of withdrawal in 2014 have passed, the foreign forces seemed to be unable to achieve their announced objectives in Afghanistan.[1] Causality rate of the NATO forces is on a rapid move to upward trajectory. Peace is elusive and the daunting process of rehabilitation and reconstruction is still an upheaval task to be accomplished. Life standards of common populace has declined nosedive. Till 2010, Afghanistan had the lowest gross national income per head of population among the developing countries in Asia, well below Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.[2] Similarly, as per United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Afghanistan Opium Survey 2007, the opium production soared to a highest record.[3]  People are weary of the war. Many efforts to bring peace in Afghanistan have been made by world community, neighboring countries and other stakeholders with least palpable results. Although, initially Pakistan has been in enormous pressure from the US to ‘do more’ in securing its borders and Pakistan’s premier intelligence organization ISI has been accused of playing double game by aiding and abetting the Taliban against NATO forces.[4] But on the other hand comity of nations has to acknowledge Pakistan’s role in the establishment of peace in Afghanistan and to lure Taliban to negotiating table as critical and decisive.[5] Pakistanis have sacrificed 50,000 precious lives and have bore financial loss of over $80 billion which is indubitably an irreparable loss for already a poverty stricken nation.[6] To comprehend the situation in Afghanistan and analyze it objectively, it is of great significance to learn about the recent background of this whole imbroglio.

Background

The US-lead so-called ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ in Afghanistan started with the entrance of CIA team called Jawbreakers in the country in December 2001 to pave the way for invasion and to get assistance from Northern Alliance to overthrow the Taliban regime.[7] The followed military invasion and subsequent removal of Taliban government was widely deemed as foreign occupation and an act of sheer aggression. To fight back and resist against the invading forces was declared as a sacred Islamic responsibility by many Islamic faction of the country especially Al-Qaeda and Taliban. After short time of the US military onslaught on December 6Kandahar, the Taliban’s spiritual home and the largest city in southern Afghanistan, had fallen marking the end of Taliban power.[8] The militants, after regrouping and reorganizing themselves enhanced their capacity to fight against a larger military might. Most of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighter could not be captured and retreated to mountainous areas of country or fled to Pakistan’s FATA region. Time kept passing and despite a sharp asymmetry between NATO/ISAF and the insurgents, the guerilla tactics used by the insurgents increased the cost of occupation drastically.

Meanwhile, to run the affairs of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai was selected as Chairman of Afghan Interim Authority as a result of an agreement reached during an international conference at Bonn Conference (Germany) under the auspices of UNO in December 2001.[9] After controversial general elections in 2004, Karzai was elected as president of Afghanistan for its first term and in August 2009 for the second time. His administration, although after a very short span of time, started losing legitimacy due to widespread corruption, bad governance and lack of capacity to handle the ever-worsening law and order situation. But to avoid criticism and to camouflage the incompetency of his administrative machinery, president Karzai kept on playing blame game against Pakistan and issue threatening statements.[10] He level serious allegations of sponsoring terror and letting use its territory to orchestrate terror plots against Pakistan. Being Indian ally, he did not want Pakistan’s role in the future peace process and rehabilitation campaign of the country and time and again warn Pakistan to stop meddling in affairs of Afghanistan. Owing to the malfunctioning of the Karzai government, the US, eventually, not only lost its trust in its pioneer ally but it also resulted in worsening of relations between the two countries.[11] Hamid Karzai even cautioned his predecessor in 2014, relatively Pakistan friendly, Ashraf Ghani against Pakistan to palliate Pakistan’s importance in the future of Afghanistan.[12]

The NATO/ISAF formally ended its mission in the country and transferred the responsibility of security affairs to the newly established Afghan National Security Forces on 28 December 2014, in a ceremony at Kabul.[13] Prior to this, a Bilateral Security Agreement between United States and Afghanistan was signed on 30th September 2014.[14] Taliban on the other hand kept their struggle afloat and made huge gains right after few years of the foreign invasion in Afghanistan. As of 31stMarch, 2015, the U.S. Congress had appropriated $65.2 billion to support the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Congress established the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) to build, equip, train, and sustain the ANSF, which comprises the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP).[15] Despite US having washed its hands, Taliban on the other hand, kept their struggle afloat and they made substantial territorial gains.[16] Mullah Omar remained the head of the Taliban movement and proved to be a binding strength for the group. Pakistan having leverage over Taliban was invited by the US and Afghan government to bring the insurgents to talks for political settlement of the dispute.

Peace efforts during Mullah Omar’s era

President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, encouraged by US, established a High Peace Council on 5th September 2010 to initiate peace talks with Taliban and to reach some settlement of the Afghan dispute. The Council was headed by former President of Afghanistan Burhanuddin Rabbani and some former members of Taliban movement. Through this Peace Council, Taliban were approached to initiate a dialogue process with the Afghan government but the mysterious Burhanuddin Rabbani’s assassination in a suicide attack on 20 September 2011 at his home in Kabul halted the process.[17] Pakistan’s ISI was accused of killing Burhanuddin Rabbani[18], the accusation Pakistan denied categorically. Then on 5 December 2011, an international conference on Afghanistan was convened at Bonn Germany to discuss the affairs of Afghanistan to accelerate peace efforts. In the conference UNO, 15 other organizations and 85 delegations participated. Pakistan boycotted the conference in reaction to the NATO attack on one of the Pakistan Army’s post bordering Afghanistan in which 24 Pakistani soldiers lost their lives.[19]

Taliban, in end 2012 agreed to open a political office in Doha, Qatar to formally initiate a peace process with Afghan government.US authorities also acceded to the Taliban’s demand to free their five main leaders detained at Guantanamo Bay. The Qatar office could not yield the cherished results as it was closed earlier due to Karzai government’s objection Taliban regime flag and banner of the Islamic Emirate at the office. Karzai was also not in favor of US to engage in talks with Taliban directly.[20]

Facilitated and hosted by Pakistan, first round of talks between representatives from Afghan government and Taliban was completed on July 07 this year in Murree, a hill resort on the outskirts of Islamabad, with officials from US and China as observers. Both sides “expressed their collective desire to bring peace to Afghanistan and the region,” Pakistan’s foreign office statesman said. They promised to keep talking. The second round was scheduled after the holy month of Ramadan.[21] High hopes were associated with the Murree initiative and fruitful results were expected.

Prospects of peace in the post Mullah Omar era

Only days prior to second round of Pakistan-brokered peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, confirmed the death of Mullah Omar. After some vacillation over the issue, Taliban too admitted the death of their reclusive leader. In view of the reports regarding the death of Mullah Omar and the resulting uncertainty, and at the request of the Afghan Taliban leadership, the second round of Afghan peace talks were postponed.[22]

After confirming Mullah Mohammad Omar’s death, the Taliban also chose Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour as his successor. Taliban and Al-Qaeda’s senior leaders including Ayman al-Zawahiri, have also pledged their allegiance to Mansour as the group’s supreme leader despite some differences within Taliban.[23] Mullah Mansour, who was civil aviation minister during Taliban regime, is believed to be one of the moderate leaders of the Taliban playing a key role in taking the initial steps for starting peace talks with the government of Afghanistan. His openness to peace talks with the Afghan government and his inclination toward the dialogue process rekindles the hopes of a negotiated end to the 14-year-old insurgency in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office also announced, on July 29, that the ground for peace talks was “more paved than before” due to the confirmation of founding Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s death.[24] But while the news could stop some Taliban militants from fighting and encourage them to join the peace process, some observers say the absence of the charismatic and unifying Mullah Omar could jeopardize recent peace efforts with the group. The future of peace and stability in Afghanistan would largely depend on the new chief of Taliban. Following could be the future scenarios for Afghanistan after Mullah Omar:

Scenario#1

Mullah Omar’s death marks a significant blow to Taliban, the group that is also threatened by the rise of IS, a self-styled extremist group.[25] With the news of his death, a larger number of Taliban militants may pledge allegiance to the IS group. It is believed that Akhtar Mansour does not have the charisma of Omar among the Taliban’s ideologies and therefore would not carry much weight – as Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi does among his men.[26] If the trend continues and IS gains strength in the country more than Afghan Taliban, the situation would be entirely different and then even if negotiations continued, peace would be far-flanged.

Scenario#2

As there is found a bitter schism between Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour on one side, and Mullah Yaqub and Taliban senior commander Abdul Qayum Zakir on the other. Mullah Mansour is leading pro-talks camp of the Taliban who are willing to enter peace talks with the government of Afghanistan while the other camp opposes arbitrary decision-making of Mansour and his growing influence in the Taliban leadership. If supposedly the IS could not assume power of that magnitude, the Taliban, lacking a unifying force like Mullah Omar, get disintegrated and start fighting in small groups, the situation would be even worse. A civil war would engulf; the whole country and chaos and turmoil would be the order of the day. It would have a spillover effect on the whole region. Pakistan would be among the main victims of that situation.

Scenario#3

Nevertheless, it is an unforgettable and undeniable fact that the Taliban have been highly resilient against many such challenges. There are possibilities that the group may overcome the internal differences to stay united. Mullah Mansoor’s best chance for preserving unity of the Taliban is possible unification and unanimous support of members of the Taliban supreme council. If Mullah Mansour could be able to keep the group united as was in the leadership of Mullah Omar, it is highly hoped that Mullah Mansour would pursue the peace process. His repute as moderate and talks-friendly is evidence of this assertion. Then he would have to play an expeditors role in convincing his commanders and foot soldiers fighting in the field that are severely averse to the idea of negotiation. This is the only viable option left for all the legitimate stakeholders in Afghanistan.

  • Recommendations 
  1. Pakistan should have clarity in its policy and it should come clear so that it could be trusted and be given its due role in the future of Afghanistan.
  2. Pakistan should fully utilize its traditional contacts with Taliban and the services of religious scholars including Imam-e-Kaba, should be sought for persuading the Taliban to take the talks serious.
  3. World community and regional players including China, Russia, Pakistan and India should not take the imminent threat of Daesh (IS) lightly.
  4. A joint effort including Taliban, Afghan government, US and Pakistan should be constituted to contain IS.
  5. A consensus should be developed to specify a timeframe of negotiations to attain immediate results.
  6. Negotiate with all the stake holders, including Taliban, Hizb-e-Islami of Hikmatyar, Haqqani network etc.
  7. As initial steps of confidence building, names of the Taliban should be removed from UN terror list as was pledged earlier.
  8. Taliban, who are willing to join the mainstream national politics, should be given their due right and share.
  9. Taliban should be dealt separately from IS and Al-Qaeda.
  10. Taliban foot soldiers should be incorporated in the Afghan National Army and Police.
  11. Transparent reconstruction and rehabilitation process should be pursued to gain confidence of the Afghan masses and to bring them out of the morass the have been for years.
  12. Rather accentuating only on short term planning and goals, there is a dire need of a holistic approach which not only gives the opportunity to shot in the eye but also provide long term solutions for the betterment and stability of society.
  13. In this advance era of technology, where military might is not the only solution available, Pakistan should apply its diplomatic channels and tools wisely to have an upper hand in regional scenario.
  14. Social sectors like Education, Health Care and employment should be focused upon.
  15. Collaborative regional and international efforts should be made to tackle the menace of drug trafficking and opium cultivation.
  16. India should be pressurized by diplomatic means to play its constructive role and to leave sabotage activities inside Pakistan from Afghanistan.
  17. Joint efforts should be made to cripple the flow financial resources and weapons to the militant groups.

To conclude, it could be said that peace always comes with a cost and stake holders in Afghanistan should be ready to bear any cost the time would demand for the larger benefit of the war-stricken people of the country. They should bring flexibility in their traditional stances and peace and stability should be their first and foremost priority. The maintenance of the status quo would benefit none other than the forces who want chaos and unrest in the country to continue. It is high time for Pakistani authorities to avail the gap created by the demise of Taliban leader by putting maximum to persuade the Taliban come to table with real intentions of ending over 13-year long war. They are to be convinced by guaranteeing the fruits of peace and stability in the country with they be its greatest beneficiaries. Only then they would visualize interest in giving up their arms struggle. All the stake-holders should have in their serious consideration that establishment of peace and stability in Afghanistan is not one of the option but the only option left for security, integrity and prosperity of the whole region.

References:

  1. The real reason the U.S. failed in Afghanistan’, Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy Magazine, March 15, 2013.
  2. Afghanistan: Before and after the Taliban’, BBC Report, April 02, 2014.
  3. Afghanistan Opium Survey’, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 2007.
  4. Bush expresses concerns over ISI’s alleged role’, Geo News, Wednesday, July 30, 2008.
  5. US Department of Defense Report to Congress on Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan’, on June 3, 2015.
  6. 50,000 killed, $80 billion loss incurred in war on terror, NA told’, Express Tribune,Dec. 05, 2015.
  7. Afghanistan War 2001–2014’, Griff Witte, Encyclopedia Britannica
  8. Ibid
  9. Agreement on provisional arrangements in Afghanistan pending the re-establishment of permanent government institutions’,5th December, 2001.
  10. Karzai Threatens to Send Soldiers Into Pakistan’, New York Times, June 16, 2008.
  11. Afghanistan: Barack Obama warns Hamid Karzai to tackle corruption’,The Telegraph, Nov 03, 2009.
  12. Independence Day speech: Karzai warns Pakistan against ‘meddling’ in Afghan affairs’, Express Tribune, August 20, 2014.
  13. Obama heralds formal end of war in Afghanistan after 13 years’, The Guardian, December 28, 2014.
  14. Afghanistan Signs Security Pact With US, NATO’, Wall Street Journal,September 30, 2014.
  15. Special Inspector General Afghanistan ReconstructionReport to the USCongress’ April 30, 2015.
  16. Taliban Make Gains Across 3 Provinces in Afghanistan’, New York Times, July 28, 2015.
  17. Afghanistan in 2011’, by Stephen Sego, Encyclopaedia Britannica
  18. Afghan aide BurhanuddinRabbani’s killer‘, Pakistani’,BBC, 2 October 2011.
  19. Pakistan to boycott Bonn conference over NATO attack’ Dawn, November 29, 2011.
  20. American delegation arrives in Qatar: Unhappy Karzai not to join US-Taliban talks’, Dawn, June 20, 2013.
  21. Taliban and Afghan government hold talks in Pakistan’, Aljazeera English, July 08, 2015.
  22. Taliban officially announce death of Mullah Omar’, The Guardian, July 30, 2015.
  23. Al Qaeda leader Zawahiri pledges allegiance to new Taliban chief’, Reuters, Aug 13, 2015.
  24. Afghanistan says Taliban leader dead, urges peace talks’, Reuters, July 29, 2015.
  25. James West, ‘Why Mullah Omar’s Death Is Bad for Afghanistan’, The National Interest,  August 6, 2015
  26. Akhilesh Pillalamarri, ‘Taliban vs. ISIS: The Islamic State Is Doomed in Afghanistan’, The National Interest, June 21, 2015.

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