Need for Dialogue with the Haqqani Network
By Sajjad Shaukat
In the past few years, a number of regional and international conferences held with a view to bringing stability and peace in Afghanistan before the foreign troops complete withdrawal from that country in 2014. Another major purpose of these forums was also to conclude a peace deal with the Afghan militants.
After the Tokyo conference on Afghanistan, held in earlier July, this year, efforts to convince Taliban for talks with the Kabul government have been expedited and Pakistan has been requested to play an important task in this regard. During the tripartite meeting in Kabul on July 19, this year, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met Pakistan’s Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, and reiterated Islamabad’s assistance for durable peace and stability in Afghanistan. They fully backed Pakistan to help arrange meetings between Afghan and Taliban representatives.
Rangin Spanta, the national security adviser to Afghan President Karzai disclosed on August 12 that two months ago, an Afghan delegation had held secret talks with Taliban former second in command Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar who is under detention in Pakistan, but Islamabad denied the statement.
However, in a bid to win Taliban’s support for reconciliation, President Karzai called upon their leader Mullah Omer to take part in the coming elections. On the other side, the Taliban were willing to resume talks with the US, but had refused dialogue with Karzai whom they consider colonial puppet.
But at the end of June, in Kyoto, Japan, an active member of the Taliban Shura (council) held talks with Masoom Stanakzai, a leading member of the Afghan High Peace Council and adviser to President Karzai.
Earlier, the Qatar-based talks with America were suspended because US President Barack Obama did not release five Taliban detainees to participate in peace negotiations as a pre-condition by the Afghan militants.
Meanwhile, BBC reported on August 1 that despite the positive Taliban statements, Obama administration did not want to say anything conciliatory towards the Taliban because US presidential elections are near.
Otherwise, US along with other western countries is fully supporting Karzai-led regime to commence peace deal with the Afghan Taliban with the help of Pakistan.
In fact, exclusion of the Haqqani militants from the dialogue will prove fruitless, further increasing the intractable issues of Afghanistan. In this context, American top officials have continuously blamed Pakistan Army and country’s intelligence agency, ISI for supporting North Waziristan-based Haqqani network for killing Americans in Afghanistan. In June, this year, US Defence Secretary of State, Leon Panetta repeatedly stated that drone attacks would continue on safe havens of terrorists in Pakistan, while accusing the Haqqani insurgents for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan. In this respect, US high officials seek to set aside the fact that US-led NATO forces have failed in coping with the resistance of Afghan Taliban who are fighting a war of liberation against the occupying forces. In fact, America and other NATO countries want to make Pakistan a scapegoat of their defeat in Afghanistan.
It is of particular attention that on September 17, 2012, in a rare interview by telephone from an undisclosed location, leader of the Haqqani militant network, Sirajuddin Haqqani revealed that the group has become so confident after battlefield gains in Afghanistan that “it no longer has sanctuaries in Pakistan, and instead, felt secure inside Afghanistan.”
Particularly, Pakistan’s Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik remarked on July 12 that Haqqani network was an Afghan entity and Pakistan had nothing to do with it.
It is mentionable that during her trip to Pakistan on October 20, 2011, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had emphasised Islamabad to help and “encourage Taliban militants to enter negotiations in good faith,” adding that “Pakistan has a critical role to play in supporting Afghan reconciliation and ending the conflict.”
Viewing Hillary Clinton’s efforts with skepticism, a senior Haqqani commander told Reuters on October 25, 2011 that the Afghan Haqqani group would not take part in any peace negotiations with the United States. He disclosed, “Americans have made several attempts for talks which we rejected because we are united to liberate our homeland.”
Notably, US President Barack Obama signed on August 10, the Haqqani network Terrorist Designation Act of 2012 into law to determine the designation of the group as a foreign terrorist organisation.
Nevertheless, America must grasp ground realties, in case; it is serious in establishing stability and peace in Afghanistan with the assistance of Pakistan. In this connection, first of all, it should end blame game against Islamabad in relation to safe havens of Haqqani militants in Pak tribal areas. America should also take notice that since April 2011, heavily-armed insurgents from Afghanistan’s side have been entering Pakistan’s region intermittently, targeting the security check posts and other infrastructure. Despite Islamabad’s strong protest, this intrusion continues. So, question arises as to why ISAF/ NATO failed in stopping this cross-border terrorism.
US should also know that Pak-Afghan border is porous with heavy terrain. Thus, it is much difficult to halt infiltration of militants from both the sides. So, appropriate coordination between NATO and Pakistan forces is essential to prevent cross-border incursions.
Nonetheless, US wants that before any deal, violence against Afghan people must stop and the Taliban must cut ties to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. America seeks to distinguish between Al-Qaeda-related fighters and Afghan insurgents—good and bad Taliban, but it is much obscured matter as there is no scale to differentiate between them because all of them including Haqqani militants are fighting against the US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan with the same motto.
It is pertinent to mention, Afghan government is handing over the security of some areas to the Afghan forces, while full security control of Afghanistan to the Afghan army by the end of 2014. Now, question also arises that if well-trained US-led NATO troops, equipped with sophisticated weaponry could not succeed in defeating the Afghan Taliban as to how Afghan forces would cope especially with the Haqqani insurgents which are now battle-hardened guerrilla group and stronger than other warring factions as perennial suicide attacks, bomb blasts, roadside explosion and assaults on the US and NATO forces prove.
Besides, after the withdrawal of NATO troops in 2014, the US seeks to keep its six military bases in Afghanistan permanently to fulfill its multiple strategic interests in the region. Even if, US succeeds in reaching a peace agreement with other Afghan Taliban which is not so easy, Haqqani group’s perennial attacks on the US troops and Afghan forces would not allow the Kabul government to achieve stability in Afghanistan in the post-2014 scenario as also desired by other NATO and western countries. In such a drastic situation, Pakistan will not succeed in its role of facilitator in the reconciliation process with the other Afghan Taliban, and to help the US-led western nations in bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan. In this backdrop, western countries will not sustain their economic aid in that lawless country.
Following realistic approach, US and Afghan President Hamid Karzai must also include the Haqqani militant groups in initiating peace dialogue with the other Afghan militants.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power