Murree meeting highlights Taliban divisions
KABUL (Pajhwok): Last week’sfirst face-to-face talks between Afghan government and Taliban negotiators in Pakistan have thrown into bold relief differences within the militant movement leadership, defence analysts say.
Although both Islamabad and Kabul hailed as a positive development the meeting in Pakistan’s tourist resort of Murree, rebel commanders reacted cynically to the talks between Afghan High Peace Council and Taliban representatives.
A string of analytical writings regarding the intra-Taliban rifts appeared in the media following the negotiations in the Urumqi city of China and Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. However, commentators believe the divisions are not as serious as to be a kick in the guts for the group.
In an ambiguously-worded statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid rejected as rumours reports about the clandestine negotiations. There were also reports that representatives of the Taliban’s political office in Doha did not attend what many characterised as a ground-breaking contact.
Ahead of the Murree meeting, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry had told senators in Islamabad although the Afghan government was ready for peace parleys, the Taliban were sharply split on the issue.
Javed Kohistani, a Kabul-based political analyst, claimed there were cracks in Taliban’s ranks on reconciliation talks with the Ghani administration. He believes the movement is divided into three groups.
Speaking exclusively to Pajhwok Afghan News, he suggested the Taliban’s Doha bureau was firmly under the influence of Mullah Omar, who seems to be under house arrest in Pakistan. However, the Taliban figures who recently took part in a series of meetings at different venues are stoutly backed by Islamabad.
Kohistani opined the Qatar office members and Mullah Omar, who was not allowed to participate in such meetings, represented one group. The other faction is comprised of Mullah Mohammad Hassan Rahmani and his loyalists, who have been part of the peace parleys.
A third side involves commanders on the battlefield within Afghanistan, according to the commentator, who said members of this group were equally divided on how to deal with the government in Kabul.
Another analyst, Dr. Faiz Mohammad Zaland, also thinks the Pakistan-sponsored negotiations could split up the Taliban -- who were long aided by Islamabad. But he hastened to explain the Taliban’s cautious response was suggestive of their push to come up with a unified stance before the next round of the nascent dialogue.
Pakistan and Afghan governments might be trying jointly to induce divisions in Taliban’s ranks, Zaland implied. “I think such a combined effort will damage the Afghan-led peace process. It is neither in the interest of Afghanistan nor Pakistan,” he warned.
Yunus Fakoor, who has long been watching the reconciliation drive, calls the Taliban a plaything in the hands of outsiders, living outside of Afghanistan. The insurgents could not be expected to be united on the peace process, he commented.
He claimed the Taliban bureau in Doha had been established with the support of the United States, its Western allies and Qatar. The Doha office representatives and Pakistan-based Taliban leaders held different views, mostly driven by a power struggle.
“But these rifts are not important for us. What is vital is that Pakistan has brought them to the negotiating table, something it has promised to do in the future,” Fakoor remarked, referring to the next round that may take place after the holy month of Ramadan.
At the same time, Kabul University teacher Najib Mahmood insists there are no divisions among the Taliban. He also denies the movement has several foreign props that have split up the movement into different factions.
He scoffed at the Qatar office, describing it as showpiece. Pakistan-backed groups alone could play an effective part in the peace negotiations, the academic maintained, rejecting reports regarding internecine bickering within the insurgent leaders.
A source close to the movement, meanwhile, said the Taliban were divided along ethnic and tribal lines something that existed even during their rule from 1996 to 2001. During the Taliban regime, rifts were fanned among Mullah Omar, Mullah Rabbani, Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor and Dadullah.
Until his death, Rabbani remained at odds with his supreme leader, according to the source, who did not want to be named. He also referred to the mysterious killing of Dadullah. Even after the Taliban government’s ouster, the movement’s central council remained divided.
Taliban’s interior minister Mullah Abdur Razzaq and his associates including Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, Mullah Saaduddin Saeed and Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi swung into action to remove the gaps through talks. But they were expelled from the group.
In mid-2003, he recalled, Mullah Abdur Razzaq and his supporters set up a breakaway faction with the backing of certain countries. The splinter group vehemently assailed Mullah Omar’s legal status, mustering support from many Pakistani religious scholars.
The source alleged there were foreign elements behind stoking the intra-Taliban wrangling. During the Taliban regime, such disagreements were allegedly encouraged by a number of foreign governments and NGOs. Mullah Omar’s office was deeply influenced by many Pakistani religious scholars.
On the other hand, former Taliban official Waheed Muzhda acknowledge a clash of views within the group, but they were negligible. Even during the Islamabad meeting, he said, the Taliban representatives reiterated their condition for a complete foreign military pullout from Afghanistan -- a longstanding demand of Mullah Omar.
“Given the unanimity of views of the groups on the peace process, we can safely assume there is no serious mismatch of perceptions. These minor things can’t lead to a breakup of the movement,” Muzhda reasoned.
Yet another political observer, Mohammad Hassan Haqyar, holds a dissimilar opinion: “I have no concrete proof yet of sharp divisions in Taliban’s ranks.” A clash of views existed in ever organisation, he argued, saying that the participation of Mullah Hassan Rahmani and others in the Islamabad talks in no way meant they have revolted against Mullah Omar.
Obviously, he continued, Rahmani, Abdul Jalil Akhund, Turabi, Mansoor and Kabir were under Pakistan’s influence because they were living there. But Haqyar does not see this as a grim situation for the Taliban. “Granted there may be certain disparities, but these individuals have never announced their separation from the Taliban or a refusal to obey Mullah Omar.”
At gathering on the topic two weeks ago, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef also rejected such rumours. He maintained Mullah Omar continued to be a leader acceptable to all Taliban.
To prove his point, Zaeef said the release of some Taliban leaders in exchange for a US soldier kidnapped by the Haqqani network and the freedom of Turkish engineer in Logar province had happened in compliance with Omar’s decision.
But a pro-Taliban writer in Kabul, Nazar Motmain, views the Islamabad talks as an attempt to divide the militant outfit. While blaming the US for inducing divisions within the group, he says: “The Americans, who are out to avenge their defeat, may spend millions of dollars to encourage such splits, just like the Russians pitted mujahidin against one another.”
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