Afghanistan: Is Reconciliation With The Neo-Taliban Working?
The latest surge of violence associated and often claimed by the neo-Taliban brings into question Afghan President Hamid Karzai's reconciliation policy with members of the ousted regime. However, the incidents, including the deadly suicide attack inside a mosque in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on June 1, may involve more actors than the resurgent elements from the Taliban regime, or the neo-Taliban, and, as such, can be a destabilizing factor in Afghanistan's future.
THE RECONCILIATION POLICY
In a little-noticed speech before a gathering of the ulema in Kabul in April 2003, Karzai said that a "clear line" has to be drawn between "the ordinary Taliban who are real and honest sons of this country" and those "who still use the Taliban cover to disturb peace and security in the country." No one has "the right to harass/persecute any one under the name of Talib/Taliban anymore," Karzai emphasized (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," July 3, 2003).
In some senses, Karzai speech was an announcement, albeit not formally at the time, of the launch of his reconciliation policy designed to weaken the resolve of the neo-Taliban by breaking their ranks into good and bad Talibs. Moreover, at the time Karzai -- who was leading a transitional administration in which he was not the dominant force -- needed the backing of his co-ethnic Pashtuns who were perceived to be -- or were actually -- marginalized from the Afghan political scene since the demise of the mostly-Pashtun Taliban regime in December 2001.
The reconciliation policy, more articulated by Karzai since April 2003, essentially maintains that other than between 100 to 150 former members of the Taliban regime are known to have committed crimes against the Afghan people; all others, whether dormant or active within the ranks of the neo-Taliban, can begin living as normal citizens of Afghanistan by denouncing violence and renouncing their opposition to the central Afghan government.
The list of the unpardonable former Taliban members has never been made public by Karzai despite requests for such an action by the Afghan media and politicians. Moreover, comments made in May by Sebghatullah Mojaddedi -- which were initially supported by Karzai -- has changed the issue of who cannot be pardoned into a contentious political problem. As the head of the Independent National Commission for Peace in Afghanistan, an organ established to facilitate the reconciliation process with the former Taliban members, Mojaddedi announced that the amnesty offer from Karzai's government extended to all Taliban leaders, including the regime's former head, Mullah Mohammad Omar (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," May 17, 2005). Both Mojaddedi and Karzai have since backed off of those statements, but distrust has increased and the door of misuse of the reconciliation policy has opened wider.
UPSURGE IN VIOLENCE
In line with the expectations of Afghan authorities and U.S.-led coalition forces, disruptive activities and terrorist acts either committed by or in the name of the neo-Taliban and their allies has increased since the weather improved in southern and eastern Afghanistan. In April, U.S. Major General Eric Olson said that there "has been an increase in Taliban and enemy activity in the spring [compared to the winter months]. And we anticipate that the enemy has the intention of trying to raise the level of activity this spring." However, Olson predicted that these activities would lack cohesion and fade in traditional neo-Taliban strongholds (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," March 11, 2005).
While from a purely military perspective -- often no more than sporadic gun battles and launching of small rockets -- engagements between the neo-Taliban and the coalition forces and their Afghan National Army allies have not shown any significant cohesion or an increase that has not been expected, acts of terror have become more organized and, indeed, deadlier.
The well-planned murder of Mawlawi Abdullah Fayyaz, head of the Council of Ulema of Kandahar on May 29 and an ardent opponent of the neo-Taliban, and the suicide blast inside a Kandahar mosque on June 1 which claimed at least 21 lives, are gruesome illustrations of the increase in terror activities in Afghanistan.
DILEMMA FACING KABUL
Following Fayyaz's murder, the office of Karzai's spokesman issued a statement in which the Afghan president strongly condemned the murder of the cleric, adding that Fayyaz was assassinated by "the enemies of Afghanistan's peace and prosperity," without mentioning the neo-Taliban by name.
Soon after Fayyaz's assassination, Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, a spokesman for the neo-Taliban, claimed responsibility for the act, calling Fayyaz a supporter of the "Americans, [who] preached against an Islamic way of life and intended to lead people away from the path of righteousness."
On May 31, Karzai responding to Fayyaz's assassination and said that it "is clear that the people who call themselves Taliban and act under the name of Taliban -- whether they are Taliban's representatives or not -- but it is clear that they are enemies of Afghanistan," Radio Afghanistan reported. Indirectly in support of his reconciliation policies, Karzai called on all of those who are "in the ranks of the Taliban, and [are] an Afghan, and belong to this soil," as his "national and religious duty" he should act against those people who kill Afghans and their religious scholars. "They should take revenge on them and push them out of this country and prove that they are Afghans and they do not allow foreigners in the country," Karzai added, in an attempt to portray the killers of Fayyaz as non-Afghans.
In a statement, the Afghan Interior Ministry linked the suicide blast on June 1, which occurred during a special funeral prayer for Fayyaz and claimed the life of Kabul's security chief General Akram Khakrezwal, to Fayyaz's murder. However, according to Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, the suicide bomber was not an Afghan, and was "an enemy of Islam" and an "enemy of peace and stability in Afghanistan" -- in what have recently become the standard official Afghan terms for what once was referred to as the Taliban.
Referring to Fayyaz's murder, the June 1 statement refrains from mentioning the Taliban by name, referring to those who carried out the assassination simply as "gunmen."
Neo-Taliban spokesman Hakimi on June 1 contacted the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press, saying that the bombing "shouldn't have occurred" and "strongly" condemning the act. While Pakistani journalist and Taliban expert Rahimullah Yusofzai told Dubai-based Geo TV on June 1 that the militia has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing. In "my view, the Taliban was looking for this opportunity. It believed that important people would visit this mosque to offer prayer for" Fayyaz, Yusofzai told the station. There are reports that two of Karzai's brothers were due to arrive to the mosque later.
Whether the neo-Taliban or a splinter group within their ranks carried out the mosque bombing, the incident has opened a new chapter of violence in Afghanistan, in which mosques are no longer considered sanctuaries safe from violence. Moreover, with the killing of Fayyaz and the possible implications of the neo-Taliban in the mosque bombing, the currency of Karzai's reconciliation policy towards the militia becomes more tenuous. And the tensions created between Karzai and some within his own government regarding his Taliban policy and between the president and some of the opposition parties might lead to a radicalization ahead of the elections for the lower house of the Afghan Parliament and provincial councils; that could, in turn, allow the reconciliation issue to be brought into the forefront of the political debate in the country with dire consequences for national unity of Afghanistan and leaving more opportunities for foreign hands to destabilize the country.
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