Why This Sudden Interest In Shura?

By Brig Asif Haroon Raja

From September last year onwards Taliban Shura or more popularly termed as Quetta Shura (QS) suddenly cropped up in US media and drummed up. New York Times wrote that that issue of Taliban leadership Shura in Quetta had emerged at top of Obama administration’s agenda in its meetings with Pakistani officials. It took the US eight years to accept that

Mullah Zaeef, Former Taliban Ambassador to Islamabad

Afghanistan and not Pakistan is the epic center of terrorism. Gen McChrystal admitted that insurgency in Afghanistan was predominantly Afghan. Elimination of QS or as a minimum its division became an important goal of USA, India and Afghanistan. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were cajoled to help the trio in realizing their objective of winning over the moderate Taliban and members of QS. Five Taliban leaders based in Afghanistan who were part of Mullah Omar Council from 1996 to 2001 have been cultivated and so is Mullah Zaeef, ex Ambassador to Islamabad.

Karzai’s emissaries have been secretly meeting members of QS and other influential Taliban leaders and had achieved some successes. Mullah Brothers Dadullah and Mansoor Dadullah as well as Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar belong to Kandahar and are related to Karzai. It was through them that Karzai was trying to contact Mullah Omar and other hard line Taliban leaders. He had established contacts with Gulbadin Hikmatyar who had given his consent to sit on the negotiating table. Besides Baradar, few other important members of QS were also cultivated. It was essentially because of his contacts within the ranks of Taliban that Karzai was tolerated by USA for so long despite his serious limitations.

Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban from FATA are closely linked because of blood relations and common ethnic bonds. Latter had always come to the assistance of Afghans whenever Afghanistan was invaded by foreign forces and had also provided them shelter. In the ongoing war it was decided by Afghan Taliban that they will not join Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to fight Pak security forces but would provide material and financial assistance as well as safe havens to them. They however wanted TTP and its bases to remain intact since it provided them sanctuaries whenever required and also attacked ISAF logistic vehicles. There has all along been subtle understanding between the two as was evident from Baitullah Mehsud and other leading commanders of TTP who had sworn allegiance to Mulla Omar and had declared Osama as their supreme leader in early 2009.

Once the TTP got deprived of its assertive leader Baitullah and was up stuck from its bases and was in total disarray after the successful military operations in Malakand Division, Swat, Bajaur, and South Waziristan and Bajaur, the Afghan Taliban considered it expedient to provide oxygen to TTP before it fragmented. Mulla Baradar and some other key members of QS who had old contacts in Pakistan were infiltrated into Balochistan from Helmand in November 2009 to revive their contacts and reorganize TTP. Karzai was very much party to it since he wanted Baradar to locate other members of QS who were refusing to talk and to win them over. The story circulated by western media about QS coincided with the entry of QS members from Afghanistan into Pakistan.

Karzai in league with India and Israel and with the blessing of USA had chalked out a gory plan to entice and lure in whole lot of resistance leaders to Kabul promising them share in power and once they got assembled for loya jirga in last April, they all were to be eliminated. The grisly plan was similar to the one played by Kufans who had invited Imam Hussein and his companions to Kufa assuring them full support and protection but when they came the Kufans betrayed them resulting in most horrible massacre of human history at the hands of Yazid’s men at Karbala.

The ISI got inkling and succeeded in nabbing Baradar from Karachi which was a major breakthrough achieved since he is number two man in Mulla Omar’s Shura. Some other key members of QS were also arrested in January-February Their capture by Pakistan security forces averted a disaster which was about to occur but caused a setback to the band of three and infuriated them. When Karzai found that the US was refusing to put pressure on Pakistan to repatriate Baradar and other Afghan nationals to Afghanistan he changed his posture and play a fast one.

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Having remained hostile to Pakistan he wore the mask of friendship and started expressing his unbounded love and affection for Pakistan. Terming Afghanistan and Pakistan as inseparable twin brothers, he has lent assurance to Pakistani leaders that he will not allow Afghan soil for exporting terrorism to Pakistan. Karzai’s belated expression of warmth notwithstanding, it must not be forgotten that he is untrustworthy. During the Afghan Jihad and later Taliban rule, he lived in exile in Quetta and was well served. Pakistan helped him in winning votes from Afghan refugees based in Pakistan and also extended all kinds of assistance.

When he took over as president he changed his color and became pro-India and anti-Pakistan. As a chosen puppet of USA he sold Afghans to USA. He also played into the hands of India friendly Northern Alliance and remained under their complete sway. These factors made him highly unpopular among the Pashtuns because of which his writ got shrunk to Kabul. He not only allowed Indian influence to grow in his country unabatedly but also came under their spell and did as guided by Indian advisers.

Karzai started accusing Pakistan and singing the tune of cross border terrorism at the behest of India from 2004 onwards. His intelligence outfit RAAM structured by RAW worked in close collaboration with Indian agencies to destabilize Balochistan and FATA. He paid no heed to the proofs of RAW’s involvement in Balochistan shown to him during his visit to Islamabad in early 2006. Nor did he bother about repeated complaints of Pakistan that Indian consulates in southern and eastern Afghanistan were indulging in covert operations against Pakistan. At one stage he threatened to send his forces into FATA. He allowed Baloch runaways like Balach Marri, Brahamdagh Bugti and others asylum and helped in establishing BLA HQ in Kandahar. He has so far not taken any practical steps to bridle India from launching covert operations against Pakistan from Afghan soil. Nor has he restrained Brahamdagh from making Balochistan restive. Hence his affections are mere rhetoric and lip service. He is visiting India on 26 April to assure Indian leaders of his continued support.

He has been trying to woo Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders as well as Hikmatyar since 2007 but his offer of talks were spurned by Omar. When Foreign Minister Abdullah backed by India stood up as a presidential candidate in August 2009 elections, Karzai tried to play upon the sentiments of Pashtuns to win their votes. Both failed to muster desired votes because of which polling exercise was repeated in November amidst charges of fraud and rigging in which Karzai was declared the winner. He is now complaining that fraud was committed by foreign powers to weaken his position. Of late he has come under increasing pressure of US officials including Obama to mend his style of governance and to curb wide scale corruption and affect tangible improvements. Although he is no more in best books of USA, however the US has no other option and has to perforce keep relying upon him.

Karzai is an American satrap in Kabul. He has apparently begun to bite the hand that had been feeding him since 2004. Either it is a put up show to draw sympathy of Afghan Pashtuns and deceive people of Pakistan, or an act to show his nuisance value to the Americans who have begun to lose confidence and interest in him. He has not liked Obama and

Khalil Nouri

other US officials criticizing him and telling him to deliver and hurled a veiled threat that if continued to push he might join hands with the Taliban. If he ever commits the mistake, it would amount to digging his own grave. Already, the US has tipped US based Prince Ali Siraj from King Zahir Shah dynasty to get ready to replace Karzai. Khalil Nuri, also residing in USA is of the view that only the siblings of Zahir Shah can restore semblance of order in Afghanistan.

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Former UN Special Envoy to Afghanistan Kai Eide was also among the competitors contending to make a dent in QS. He claimed that he was in secret contacts with Taliban since March 2009 and had made substantial progress but his progress was torpedoed following arrest of Mulla Baradar. He is these days brooding that his one-year hard work has gone waste. It is difficult to believe that Eide could have gained contact with Taliban leaders in hiding at his own and managed to keep his parleys secret from six intelligence agencies and troops from 43 countries in Afghanistan. Undoubtedly it was a collective plan and not a solo flight by Eide. Possibly Saudi Arabia must also have been kept informed because of its influence on Taliban. Pakistan was the only country from whom backdoor contacts were kept secret.

India too was busy playing its role in subverting reconcilable Taliban. Having already made a place among Afghan non-Pashtuns, it went about presenting a soft face to win over other communities of Afghanistan as well. It posed itself as a friend, interested only in extending a helping hand to develop war ravaged country. It is one of the biggest regional donors; its investment of $1.2 billion to Afghanistan, mainly aid for social services including road infrastructure, health, education and road transport etc helped in building its friendly and docile image particularly when its military didn’t become a member of coalition forces to kill Afghans. It pretended as a builder rather than a destroyer.

India’s spying and subversive activities both against anti-Indian forces in Afghanistan and against Pakistan were undertaken secretly from 2001 onwards. Indian intelligence agencies helped by CIA, FBI and RAAM began recruiting Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan, Pashtun and non-Pashtun Afghans, dissidents from FATA and foreigners to give shape to its gory plan of destabilizing Pakistan. The military trainers and commandoes imparting training to saboteurs too remained dressed in civil clothes pretending to be civilians working on development projects. At the same time Indian psychological operators and intelligence goons poisoned the minds of Afghans against Pakistan, projecting it as unreliable, treacherous and unfriendly to Afghanistan. From 2007 onwards, RAW began to concentrate on moderate Taliban to create cleavage between reconcilable and irreconcilable in line with US plan.

Thanks to insidious role played by India and Israel, till recent, Pakistan was seen suspiciously by US, distrusted and castigated. Too much of hue and cry was made over QS and Pakistan was pressed to get hold of QS members involved in coordinating resistance war in southern Afghanistan, or to allow CIA to launch drone strikes in Balochistan. None questioned as to what was faction of QS doing in Quetta when its leader Omar and all its fighters were in Afghanistan. Neither the Pashtuns nor Baloch in Balochistan had any history of supporting Taliban movement in Afghanistan.

Arrest of Baradar and other important members of QS by Pak security forces should have been rejoiced by all affected parties involved in war on terror striving to restore peace n Afghanistan. On the contrary arrests of almost 50% members have hung a pal of gloom over them. USA, India, Afghan regime, Israel and UN are vexed and feel they have been outfoxed by Pakistan in their own game. A vile propaganda has now been mounted that the arrests were carried out to sabotage peace efforts undertaken by Karzai regime since Pakistan was least interested in peace in Afghanistan.

Reportedly Baradar had agreed to attend the three-day Jirga hosted by Karzai in Kabul in April which could have paved the way for isolating Mullah Omar and putting into action the reintegration plan without involving Pakistan. High hopes were pinned on Loya Jirga. Baradar and others favorably inclined to negotiations had accepted the invitation and promised to attend. It would shave heralded the much sought division of Shura and isolation of Mullah Omar led extremists least interested in negotiations either with Karzai or USA before complete withdrawal of foreign forces. In the estimate of Afghan-Indian experts and some US think tanks, 80% of Taliban and lower ranking leaders being moderate would have ditched Omar in return for monetary gains. Such an arrangement though wishful suits USA since it would allow it to execute its exit safely and on a winning note and to leave behind friendly regime ready to safeguard its regional interests.

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The US is somehow taking the event lightly since it doesn’t want to expose itself as a party to the scheme in which Pakistan was to be left out in future parleys. It lauded Pakistan for the arrests made but kept asking Pakistani officials to hand over arrested Afghans or allow FBI to carryout exclusive interrogation of Baradar, or hand them over to Afghan authorities. The US officials as well as Karzai applied extreme pressure on Pakistan to hand over Baradar to his country of origin. For a change, the pressure was not coercive but soft and friendly.

In order to put at rest Pakistan’s apprehension that the captive would be put in notorious Baghram Base prison, it was reported that the base was being handed over to Afghan forces. As Pakistan was about to wilt, Pakistan law court saved the situation by ruling that he cannot be extradited. To appease USA, FBI was allowed to carryout joint interrogation of Baradar. The US smelt the rat that Karzai in league with India was trying to play a fast one by trying to establish direct communication with QS at his own to gain political strength and forge independent formula different to the one formulated by USA.

India, finding itself at a loss, made a last ditch effort to salvage the situation. Manmohan Singh air dashed to Riyadh in white heat to seek Saudi King’s assistance in establishing contacts with reconcilable members of Taliban Shura and to press Pakistan to restrict its talks with India on terrorism only since India was the victim of terrorism.  He lamented that Pakistan was promoting terrorism and sabotaging peace efforts in Afghanistan. The US played its part from behind the curtains to make Saudi leadership cede to Indian requests. It was when Manmohan returned empty handed that reality dawned upon USA that Pakistan and not India was the key to Afghan tangle. Ouster of India from Tehran and Istanbul conferences by neighbors of Afghanistan and India having no say in London Conference further reinforced this impression.

Col Imam with Jeff Gates in Feb 2010

When Karzai’s dramatics failed to befool Pakistan, a new plan was put into action. Col retired Imam, a former ISI officer and Consul General in Kabul had earned fame during Afghan jihad against Soviets and also lasting friendship of Pashtun Afghans. He has staunchly defended the cause of Afghan Taliban but had some reservations about TTP. Recently he made some anti-TTP statements which miffed TTP leaders particularly Maulvi Nazir heading Ahmadzai Wazir tribe in SW. Exploiting their resentment, Karzai conveyed a message to Mulla Nazir through his contacts among Taliban to kidnap some important personalities. Nazir invited Col retired Imam and Air Commodore Khalid Khwaja, also former ISI officer to visit SW and play his part in restoring peace.

The two undertook a visit to Angoor Adda in first week of March without informing the authorities or taking clearance. They assured their hosts that they will convey their point of view and they will act as spokesmen of Mehsuds while negotiating a peace deal. On their next trip in last week of March they were made hostages. In all probability they have been whisked to Afghanistan. Their capture has strengthened the hands of Karzai since he is now in a stronger bargaining position to demand release of Baradar and others in return for their liberation of two captive ISI officers. The two captives are held in high esteem of Afghans for their services rendered and it is least likely that any physical harm will come to them. However, in case Blackwater is involved in kidnapping, their life is in danger. Some undesirable stories on their behalf could be fed to the media to malign Pak Army and ISI.