Fahad Ali describes the ups and downs of the situation in Afghanistan limping on
Afghanistan limping on Russian-Ukrainian tension has completely diverted attention from Afghanistan though things have not settled in the country yet. The government authority appears quite fluid giving impression of general lawlessness. This situation is borne out by a recent explosion on the doorsteps of a mosque in northern Afghanistan that killed one worshipper and wounded seven others. It was reported that the blast occurred in the city of Qala-e-Naw, the capital of Badghis province, which borders the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion though local outfit affiliated with the militant Islamic State group has in the past repeatedly claimed responsibility for similar attacks. Last month, a bomb blast on a minibus had killed at least seven people in the western Afghan city of Herat. The sticky bomb was attached to the fuel tank of the bus and left nine other people wounded.
Other worry is the infiltration of extremist groups in Pakistan increasing the incidents of violence and terror pushing the Pakistani authorities to take serious action in this respect. Along with taking punitive action there is a strong strand if thought in Pakistan that promotes the policy of engaging the recalcitrant groups to come to the negotiating table for sorting out the difficulties. This is quite understandable in view of the fact that both the neighbouring countries have a lot to lose if friction continues to be perpetrated particularly by misguided elements that heavily rely on violence. Many elements in Pakistan are therefore trying to sort out this difficult issue through peaceful means so that the existing tension decreases.
In this context, two tribal jirgas from North and South Waziristan have travelled to Afghanistan in an effort to resume peace talks between the government of Pakistan and the militant outfit Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). It is reliably learnt that a four-member jirga visited Afghanistan’s Paktika province to meet senior leaders of the proscribed TTP and bring them to the negotiating table with the government of Pakistan a few days ago. Actually the important jirga is from the Mehsud tribe that is led by former senator and noted religious leader Maulana Saleh Shah. This jirga started its work a month ago and paid three visits to Afghanistan limping on. Maulana Saleh Shah belongs to Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam of Maulana Fazlur Rehman group and enjoys a good reputation among the Taliban as well as government and security establishment.
It was also reported that Afghanistan limping on Maulana Saleh Shah had agreed to play his role for bringing peace to the country by bridging the gap between the two sides but only if it was not highlighted in the media. He however confirmed his three visits to Afghanistan in the past few weeks saying that the only purpose of their efforts was to help restore peace in the country. He said they did not meet TTP leader Hafiz Noor Wali Mehsud directly but held meetings with the representatives he had nominated for the peace talks with Pakistan. He added that this issue is like a critical patient suffering from multiple serious diseases for 20 years and nobody should expect it to be resolved so quickly. However, Maulana Saleh Shah, who contributed to the peace process in the past between the government and Taliban, was optimistic of the peace talks, saying the jirga members were satisfied with the cooperation and sincerity of the two sides, the Pakistan government and TTP leadership.
Another tribal jirga, headed by tribal chief Malik Nasrullah Khan, left for Afghanistan’s Khost province via the Torkham border on 20 February. This jirga comprised 10 elders and it is reliably learnt that another jirga from North Waziristan was tasked with talking to Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar and his men in Khost. Bahadar is the leader of the North Waziristan-based Taliban, who shifted to Afghanistan after the government launched a massive military offensive in June, 2015. Bahadar was believed to be a pro-government Taliban leader but had been accused of some devastating attacks on security forces in North Waziristan. It was mentioned that the jirga from South Waziristan has been tasked to meet the TTP leadership and convince them to join negotiations with the government. It is worthwhile to note that last November the Taliban had announced a month-long ceasefire to start direct talks with the government. However, the ceasefire ended on 9 December last year without any clear statement from either side. The Afghan Taliban facilitated the peace talks between the government and the TTP and arranged some meetings between the two delegations in Afghanistan.
The tribal jirgas stepped forward to play a role in resuming the peace process between the two sides after a spate of violent attacks in the troubled border territory. It is believed that some recent attacks by the TTP, planned and launched from Afghanistan, had enraged Pakistani authorities, prompting them to approach the Afghan Taliban and remind them of their commitments made during the Doha Accord. It is reported that accordingly that the Afghan Taliban took this seriously and conveyed to the senior TTP leaders to stop using Afghan soil against Pakistan. The TTP leadership then wrote a letter to all their commanders and militants not to attack the Pakistani security forces from Afghanistan limping on side of the border.
On the other hand, despite tense relationships, Islamabad and New Delhi have finally cleared all hurdles in the way of transportation of Indian wheat to Afghanistan via Pakistan as the first shipment carrying food grain. This will be rare when India transports goods using Pakistan’s land route to Afghanistan since Islamabad otherwise never permits two-way trade between New Delhi and Kabul. But an exception was made due to the precarious humanitarian situation in Afghanistan as Pakistan has allowed one-time permission to India to transport 50,000 metric tonnes of wheat through Wagah border as a humanitarian gesture. It took both countries several weeks of discussions where the two countries struggled to agree on modalities.
Initially, Pakistan wanted the transportation of humanitarian assistance in the Pakistani trucks under the banner of the United Nations but India made a counter proposal and wanted the food grain to be shipped to Afghanistan either in Indian or Afghan trucks. The two sides then agreed that wheat would be carried by Afghan trucks and a list of Afghan contractors was shared with Pakistan. As per the modalities, India has to transport the wheat within 30 days of the first consignment. It was reported that the first consignment of 10,000 metric tonnes of wheat would go via the Wagah border crossing and it would be handed over to the WFP that would then distribute it among the people of Afghanistan. It is, however, reported that this might not be possible given the fact that only 40 trucks cross the Attar-Wagah crossing every day.
Many countries including Pakistan, Russia, China and some European countries were in favour of unfreezing the Afghan assets held in the United States. But President Joe Biden recently in a controversial move decided to split the $7 billion Afghan funds between the victims of 9/11 attacks and for humanitarian assistance for the people of Afghanistan. The move is being severely criticised by many as the Afghan Taliban condemned it while Pakistan questioned the US’ decision for setting aside the $3.5 billion for the victims of 9/11 attacks. Pakistan insisted that the utilisation of Afghan funds must be the sovereign right of Afghanistan. TW
Fahad Ali is associated with maritime trade