The Taliban hierarchy in the present form is led by Maulvi Haibatullah Akhundzada, who is known to draw inspiration from South Afghan base of Kandhar.
By Brig N K Bhatia
In a watershed moment for peace in Afghanistan, the USA and Taliban are a few hours away from signing a historic deal aimed at ending acrimonious power play in one of the most impoverished nations in the world.
The nuances of the deal have been under wrap. But as a prelude to the signing of the Agreement the Taliban agreed to “reduction in violence” and refrain from initiating any violent action beginning 22 February. Post that, last six days have seen a significant reduction in violence.
The exact nature of the peace deal will eventually unfold. But the signing of the deal with Taliban gives them on the platter what they have been claiming and demanding; the exit of all foreign forces and probably a total control of Afghanistan.
The legitimacy of Taliban ruling Afghanistan post signing the deal with the US coincides with the weakening position of current Afghan President Ashraf Ghani who has been declared elected for a second term in the elections held almost six months back. What role the Afghan President will have in the new Taliban controlled dispensation would be closely watched.
Another important and significant aspect to be watched would be the status of Afghan constitution and its institutions that have been nurtured over the last two decades with the backing of the USA and its allies but is a total anathema to the Taliban.
The Taliban would now rightfully lay claim to being the custodians of a long and acrimonious Afghan historical legacy and prove that Afghanistan is indeed a “Graveyard of Empires”, the USA being the latest great power to retract from Afghanistan having lost over two thousand active servicemen and after spending over a trillion dollars for its failed efforts to tame Afghan pride.
The Taliban hierarchy in the present form is led by Maulvi Haibatullah Akhundzada, who is known to draw inspiration from South Afghan base of Kandhar. He is a religious teacher with little military exposure. One of his deputy is The Quetta Shura head Mullah Mohammad Yaqub who is the son of Mullah Mohammad Omar. He is young with little exposure to the ongoing armed insurgency in Afghanistan.
Another Deputy and militant and known face of the Taliban is Sirajjuddin Haqqani in control of Peshawar Shura and belonging to the famous Haqqani network. He is in control of Taliban militant operations in Afghanistan, more specifically in Central region including Kabul. His group specializes in suicide and wayside bombings. He has been instrumental in initiating a number of attacks in Central Kabul and on Indian backed projects in Afghanistan including attacks on Indian Embassy and killing of Indian diplomats. He has been backed by Pakistan’s ISI and carried out attacks at their behest. His brother Anas Haqqani was released in exchange for two western hostages in November 2019.
The other arm of the Taliban are Doha based interlocutors led by Sher Abbas Stanekzai is currently known to be negotiating for peace with the US representatives.
As yet it is not clear as to how to complete the Taliban including its various arms and leaders would be brought together on a common platform to ensure peace and stability in the whole of Afghanistan. The scenario unfolding in Taliban led Afghanistan and the ensuing battle for leadership could be the next reason for concern.
As is commonly known Taliban is predominantly a Pashtun dispensation with strong tribal loyalties and living on either side of Durand Line which is not recognised by the Afghanistan government. Lately Pakistan Pashtuns have been up in arms with Pashtun Tuhaffuz Movement taking up the fight against human rights violations against Pashtuns and launch of military operations by Pakistan army against Pashtuns, beginning with Zarb-e-Azb in 2014 to defeat the Teherik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) led by Baitullah Mehsud. Playing good Taliban vs bad Taliban, a contradictory support by the Pakistani establishment to Pashtuns on either side would only keep the pot boiling along the border.
Pakistan has already claimed that it has played a key role in the US-Taliban negations. Known to control and provide sanctuary to Haqanni network, its future role in trying to control the network and its activities would be critical for peace. Would the Taliban and its various outfits continue to follow guidelines or emerge independent of Pakistan control would be watched keenly?
India has also been invited to the signing of the peace deal between the USA with Taliban in Doha on 29 February and will be represented by its envoy. In presence would be Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
India, post-signing the deal has no option but to open up a dialogue with the Taliban to keep the Indian interests alive as Afghans are known to have more trust in India than Pakistan. The task would be uphill and it will be better if India and the Taliban move with an open mind for the better future of Afghan people.
(The author is Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal.)