The Taliban have reportedly agreed to open a representative office in Qatar. What is unclear is who are these ‘Taliban’. There is deafening silence in Pakistan, which should have been bestir with excitement that a defining moment has been reached in the Afghan endgame. The silence needs to be interpreted.
But given the tenor of the media briefings by the spokesman of the Pakistani military in the last few days, it doesn’t seem that Pakistan is part of this Qatar show, although ISI chief Shuja Pasha did pay a quiet visit to Doha last week.
Nor is it likely that the Iranians are in the loop. The Iranian army chief Gen. Ataollah Salehi has just warned the US Fifth fleet not to its depute aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf again. “We advise and insist that this warship not return to its former base in the Persian Gulf.” (USS John C. Stennis, one of America’s biggest warships, is apparently cruising in the Sea of Oman at the moment.)
However, the big question is whether Mullah Omar is part of this Qatar affair. From the latest reports, he seems to be rallying the various Taliban groups to form a united front to launch a renewed offensive against the US and Nato forces in Afghanistan. Not exactly the kind of thing he should be doing when he is reportedly sitting down to talk? Good question.
So, who are these ‘Taliban’ who are in parleys with the US? Conceivably, they include the folks coming under the rubric of ‘moderate Taliban’ who have been living in Kabul under Hamid Karzai’s lock and key and enjoying state hospitality. In sum, they could be shifting residence from the ‘safe houses’ in Kabul to the ‘safe houses’ in Doha. Then, there are the interlocutors who pop up as Taliban ‘representatives’. No one is in any position to know who they are or what credentials they enjoy to speak on behalf of the Taliban.
Finally, the question arises whether there is a unified Taliban opposition as such that the Americans can engage. It seems Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s son-in-law is currently camping in Kabul to meet the NATO officials, possibly seeking accommodation in Qatar, while he himself is living in Peshawar.
The crunch time comes when the Taliban’s former commander-in-chief Mullah Mohammed Fazl arrives in Qatar on a long tiring flight with mid-air refuelling from Guantanamo Bay. Mullah Fazl’s ‘reintegration’ into the Afghan jihadi tapestry will need to be skillfully handled.
The guy has a lot of blood on his hands. While living and working in Tashkent, I heard terrible stories about his activities in Mazar-i-Sharif. Such as packs of wild dogs eating up the corpses of hundreds (or thousands) of Hazara Shi’ites including women and children executed there in that horrendous period of August-September 1998.
His metamorphosis as an Islamist politician in a democratic era will be something to watch. That is, if he doesn’t go berserk after having lived in a 2 metre x 1 metre underground cell in Guantanamo Bay for 9 years. How will he take to the sight of the sea? And all the good things in life that Qatar is famous for? This is by far going to be one of the epic stories of the entire Arab Spring.
What is crystal clear is that the Barack Obama administration is in tearing hurry to take peace parleys to some visible point by the time the NATO summit is held in Chicago in May. Or else, it will become increasingly difficult to persuade the Europeans to take any more interest in the war at such a time when their own house is on fire. Their debt repayment liabilities alone in 2012 apparently work out to some 500 billion euros and they can’t afford this war anymore.
– January 3, 2012