Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

Crying for the Moon

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Crying for the Moon

The death of the Taliban’s leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who was killed in US drone strike in the Dalbandin area of Balochistan on May 21, makes headlines on national and international newspapers. He held out against peace talks and staged heavy attacks in Afghanistan. Mansour consolidated his authority among the Taliban fighters through declaring offensives against Afghan government and signaled talks as “enemy’s propaganda”. He inflicted heavy casualties on Afghan civilians and police and changed 2015 one of the deadliest years in the country.
Following the arrests of Mullah Omar’s deputies Mullah Obaidullah Akhund and Mullah Abdul Ghani in 2007 and 2010 respectively, Mullah Mansour became second-in-command to the Afghan Taliban founder. When the news of Mullah Omar’s 2013 death surfaced in July 2015, Mullah Mansour was officially made the group’s supreme leader. Key Taliban commanders and clerics were opposed to the appointment initially, especially because the news of Mullah Omar’s death was kept secret for a long time. But after he won the support of the late emir’s family, he was able to consolidate his grip on the movement.
Initially, Mansour was believed to hold negotiation with Afghan government but it was proved false. While he was in the office, the Taliban carried out the deadliest attacks in many parts of the country. In a bid to prove their strength, the Taliban even held the northern city of Kanduz for almost 15 days.
However, the Afghan government declared peace and urged all warring parties to lay down their arms and join peace process. Afghan officials and members of High Peace Council (HPC) left no stone unturned to get the Taliban to resume talks and Pakistani officials deemed talks the only solution for peace.
In his trip to Pakistan, President Ashraf Ghani asked it to prevent the Taliban from spring offensive, which was initiated last year, operate against Haqqani network and bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. He remarked these messages directly and clearly.
Persisting on resuming peace talks, which was stalled with Omar’s death, Pakistan promised to get the Taliban to hold talks. In March, Pakistan’s Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz had admitted that the Taliban leadership lived in Quetta, and that Pakistan was using this as a leverage to persuade them to engage with Kabul. Militancy and terrorists attacks, however, continued unabated in Afghanistan leading to massive casualties. As a result, a suicide attack against an elite military unit in central Kabul, in April, more then 80 people and over 350 others. Following the attack, Ghani asked Pakistan again to take action against Taliban sanctuaries on its soil. So, the Taliban, under Mansour, announced Omari Operation this year and did not intend to hold talks despite efforts made by the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States to revive the stalled peace negotiation. Subsequently, the US officials and Afghan government lost their patience which led to the denouement of Mansour’s role.
Days after the strike, on May 25, the Taliban announced their new leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada. Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Yaqoob, the son of the founding emir Mullah Omar, have been named his deputies.  Haibatullah is not known for his bravery on the battlefield rather he is respected as a religious cleric having been a leading member of the Taliban judiciary.
It is believed that Haibatullah’s seat will also remain vacant around the peace talks forever the same as Mansour and further persistence for resuming the reconciliation process will be in vain as ever before. In my previous commentaries, I expressed pessimistic views regarding the fruition of peace talks and believed that one-sided persistence, while the Taliban continue their attacks, would never give the desired fruit. Indeed, since warring factions signal talk as propaganda, seeking it would be tantamount to crying for the moon. Therefore, I suggested military deal as a last resort and the only option left before the Afghan government after the failure of peace talks.
The Taliban should know that holding out against peace talks will be playing with a fire. The US seems determined in pursuing its attacks against the Taliban’s sanctuaries and Afghan government will also intensify military actions against the militants who fight across the country. In his recent statement, President Ghani has aired in a serious tone as, “We want close relations with neighboring countries, but not in exporting terrorism, but if they send us terrorists, we will kill them and eliminate them.” Furthermore, it is believed that if the Taliban’s newly-appointed leader Mullah Haibatullah follow Mansour’s inflexible path, he may be doomed to Mansour’s fate.
Mansour’s death has caused a rift and mistrust among the members of QCG group and it seems to be on the verge of collapse. Similarly, the QCG’s meetings – in which the Taliban representatives were not present – are believed to have met failure and peace talks reached a real deadlock – which has been more complicated now. Persuading Haibatullah to resume talks will break the stalemate and bridge the emerging gap among the QCG group, which is near to impossible, otherwise military action and intensifying counterinsurgency campaigns will be the only option for the US and Afghan forces. This tension will ebb if the neighboring countries either support Afghanistan in combating terrorism or facilitate the talks honestly.

Hujjattullah Zia is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at zia_hujjat@yahoo.com

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