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    South Asia
     May 19, 2007
Page 1 of 2
Afghan battle lines become blurred
By M K Bhadrakumar

New fault lines have appeared on the Afghan chessboard. While the "international community" kept watch on the obscure lawless borderlands of Pakistan's tribal agencies for the Taliban's spring offensive, templates of the war began to shift - almost unnoticed.

Things are not going to be the same again. The war is transforming. Adversarial lines are being redrawn. The enemy's contours have changed. Front lines are being abandoned. In



another six to eight weeks, hot, dry winds will have arrived, bearing fine, yellow dust that envelops everything, making appearances even more deceptive. No one will be able then to tell with certitude who is the enemy.

Looking back, the ground began to shift on New Year's Eve, when the lower chamber of the Afghan Parliament passed a bill that would grant amnesty to all Afghans involved in any war crimes during the past quarter-century. The resolution said, "In order to bring reconciliation among various strata in the society, all those political and belligerent sides that were involved one way or the other during the two and a half decades of war will not be prosecuted legally and judicially."

The quarter-century covered the entire period from the Saur Revolution in the spring of 1978 through the bloody years of the Soviet intervention, through the riotous mujahideen rule and the senseless civil war that followed, all the way to the Taliban takeover in Kabul in 1996 until the ouster of that regime in the autumn of 2001.

For the first time, Afghans spoke out that they no longer held the United States in awe. At a single stroke, the December 31 amnesty move deprived the US of the one weapon that it wielded for blackmailing the "warlords" into submission - powerful leaders of the Northern Alliance groups, the mujhideen field commanders, and petty local thugs alike.

The prospect of a war-crime tribunal was held like a Damocles' sword over any recalcitrant Afghan political personality - be it Burhanuddin Rabbani, Yunous Qanooni, Rashid Dostum or Rasool Sayyaf. In the able hands of former US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, it did wonders while ensuring Hamid Karzai's election as president and in consolidating US dominance in Afghanistan.

What was astonishing was that the amnesty bill covered even Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Hezb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Clearly, an Afghan "revolt" was afoot against the existing political order imposed by the US. Implicitly, it called into question the raison d'etre of the war, since the largest group in the mujahideen-dominated 249-member lower house of Parliament consists of the elected members of Hezb-e-Islami besides a sizable number of former Taliban figures (such as Mullah Abdul Salam Rocketti) who act as the Taliban's political wing in Kabul.

A lot of homework had obviously gone into the initiative. Afghan leaders, with their native wisdom, estimated that the war was going nowhere and that the chance of "victory" by the US, which was never good, had probably passed. They saw ahead that the superpower, which arrived full of hubris, might well depart humbled. They wished to be on call when the time came.

Of course, it was apparent to anyone that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was a divided house and that the United States' old European allies didn't share its apparent intention to turn Afghanistan into a client state under a NATO flag from where US power projection into the Persian Gulf and the Middle East and South Asia and Central Asia would become possible.

Most important, Afghans estimated that as in Iraq, dialogue would become unavoidable, and a regional solution involving Afghanistan's neighbors might become necessary. They were deeply skeptical whether Washington would stay the course. They could hear the Taliban's distant drums approaching Kabul's city gates.

The amnesty move unleashed a wave of political activism in the subsequent few weeks, leading to the formation of the new United Front early last month. The platform of the United Front is interesting. It calls for a parliamentary form of government; it wants to deprive the president of the power to appoint provincial governors (who should be elected officials instead); it demands changes in the electoral laws from the present so-called non-transferable system to a proportional system, etc. It speaks of dialogue, reconciliation and power-sharing.

But evidently the United Front is bent on cornering Karzai in a typical Afghan way - incrementally but relentlessly, until his political nerves give way and his US support becomes redundant. It is harshly critical of the Karzai government's ineptitude and corruption, and it draws attention to the great suffering of the Afghan people.

In the sphere of foreign affairs, the United Front vaguely seeks "coordination" with the foreign forces present in Afghanistan, and leaves it at that for the present. Significantly, it calls for the official recognition of the international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan - known as the Durand Line.

At first glance, the United Front lineup resembles erstwhile Northern Alliance - Burhanuddin Rabbani, Mohammed Fahim, Yunous Qanooni, Abdullah, Ismail Khan, and Rashid Dostum. But curiously, the United Front also includes two top Khalqi leaders from the communist era - members of the politburo of the Afghan Communist Party, General Nur al-Haq Olumi and General Mohammad Gulabzoi.

They were close associates of former defense minister General Shahnawaz Tanai, another top Khalqi leader, who staged an abortive coup attempt in March 1990 against the government in Kabul with the help of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and eventually fled to Pakistan seeking asylum.

Khalqis, who are drawn from the Pashtun tribes, have had a strong nexus with the Taliban over the years. Tanai, who is based in Pakistan, used to provide the Taliban with a skilled cadre of military officers, who flew the Taliban's "air force", drove their tanks and manned their heavy artillery, absolving the need of Pakistani regulars except in very selective roles. In the recent years, he has been a visitor to Kabul.

Therefore, questions arise. Is a far-reaching restructuring of the Taliban going on? Mullah Dadullah's killing seems part of the process. It does seem that Hekmatyar and the mujahideen/Khalqi elements within the Taliban are slouching toward mainstream politics in Kabul. A sidelining of the extremist, "jihadist" elements by ISI could be under way.

Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf could be acting, finally. Hekmatyar has certainly positioned himself somewhere in the vicinity of the United Front. He is almost visible. Mullah Dadullah's killing no doubt strengthens him. Equally, Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani (who is second only to Taliban supreme Mullah Omar) too has a mujahideen pedigree. Also, Haqqani and Hekmatyar go back a long way. In the Afghan jihad of the early 1980s, Haqqani was a camp follower of Professor Rasool Sayyaf (one of the prime movers, incidentally, of the amnesty move in Parliament).

The mystery deepens insofar as Hekmatyar also has a strong "Iran connection", having spent five years in exile in Mashhad after

Continued 1 2 


A catalogue of errors in Afghanistan (Mar 9, '07)

Iran, US take their fight to Afghanistan (Apr 27, '07)

 
 



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