Peace Efforts in Afghanistan Jeopardized

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 26 Sep 2011

Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra – TRANSCEND Media Service

The killing of Barhanuddin Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik and leader of High Peace Council to broker peace in the conflict-torn country is certainly a setback to the ongoing peace process in Afghanistan. There is a tragic paradox behind the killing of Rabbani as the allegedly Taliban suicide bomber came to Kabul to deliver a CD containing ‘message of peace’ from Taliban, which actually turned to be a ‘message of death’ for the septuagenarian leader who played long innings in Afghan politics since 1970s. Islamic scholar turned politician with many contested achievements to his name, Rabbani has currently played a vital role towards bringing diverse factions including the extremist Taliban to negotiating table. Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, while paying tribute to the slain leader called him ‘the martyr of the path of peace,’ and also stated that “The blood of the martyred and other martyrs of freedom requires us to continue our efforts until we reach peace and stability.” However, this sentiment also indicated the fragile nature of peace process in Afghanistan, with Taliban gaining increasing ascendancy in recent months.

The killing of Rabbani in highly securitized zone of Kabul will have many implications for Afghanistan and beyond. Shafiqullah Tahiri, a spokesman for the Afghan intelligence service revealed that the killing had been plotted for four months by the Afghan Taliban’s governing council. It appears that extremist forces have reduced the influence of Afghan security forces not only from other parts of the country, but also in Kabul itself. The killing of influential people like Karzai’s half brother Wali Karzai and Jan Mohmmad Khan, and targeting of high profile offices including embassies in Kabul in recent months has indicated the increasing prowess of the Taliban to dictate emerging politics of the region. Though Taliban has not officially commented on the killing of Rabbani, the fact remains that the Taliban was a strong opponent of the rule of Rabbani in Kabul from 1992 to 1996, when the civil war had brought nothing but death and destruction. The ethnic Pashtun Taliban had never accepted Tajik led Jamiat-e-Islami led by Rabbani as they were sworn enemies during the civil war and after when Rabbani retreated and led Northern Alliance, a conglomeration of parties opposed to Taliban.

The ethnic dimension of the killing will be more precarious than its short term impact on peace process. Afghanistan is a deeply divided ethnic society; in fact it is the ethnic fault lines in Afghan society that has brought to light the history of civil wars mainly on ethnic lines. The killing of Rabbani, a Tajik leader, will definitely increase the apprehension among ethnic communities like Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara as to their space in the emerging political matrix in the country. These communities are minorities, while Pashtun is the majority ethnic community in the region. The killing also emerged in contrast to the recent proclamation by the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar that the future politics after the withdrawal of foreign forces will be based on an inclusive and multi-ethnic framework. Omar in his speech while celebrating Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan had attempted to assuage the fear of minority communities in Afghanistan, and had promised that the emerging dispensation will be based on Afghan identity, rather than on any ethnic identity. The death of Rabbani only adds to the skepticism that the Taliban chief will not follow his words, and coming days and months will likely witness more violent incidents with select targeting of high profile officials and peace activists in Afghanistan.

The killing has also led to emergence of cloud of confusion among peace makers and common people in Afghanistan. Though the past records of Rabbani is not without blemishes as he presided over one of the worst phases of Afghanistan’s recent history, this Islamic scholar turned politician’s transformation to a peace maker was undoubtedly striking. He played the role of balancer to bring divergent factions towards evolution of a common framework. Rabbani’s tours to neighbouring countries including Pakistan, Iran and Turkey for garnering their support to peace process had earned him kudos and also helped foster peace process in the country. As Hawa Alam Nuristani, a member of High Peace Council observed “If the work of the High Peace Council had not been effective, delegations from Pakistan including the president and prime minister would not have come to Afghanistan and proposed a joint peace commission.” Reports suggest that the Peace Council was on the verge of striking a peace deal with the Taliban. Despite his beleaguered past, the recent utterances of Rabbani were devoid of any past scorn and name calling, and it appeared he was serious as leader of peace council towards crafting peace in the war torn country. The apparent confusion in Afghan society is reflected in the statement made by Faruq Wardak, the Afghan Education Minister and also a member of High Peace Council, “The assassination has made things very complicated … Now we don not know who our friend is and who our enemy; whom we can trust and whom we cannot trust; with whom we can reconcile and with whom we cannot.”

The international implications of the killing will be equally complex. The deteriorating relationship between the US and Pakistan, two major players in Afghan politics, along with the killing will impact the peace process in the region. Pakistan Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar in her interview to Geo TV on 22 September 2011 warned the US that “You cannot afford to alienate Pakistan; you cannot afford to alienate the Pakistani people. If you are choosing to do so and if they are choosing to do so it will be at their (the United States) own cost.” The US has argued that Pakistan has retained the extremist groups as ‘veritable arm’ of its intelligence agency, which Pakistan has denied. Pakistan Prime Minister, Yusuf Raja Gilani paid tributes to the slain leader on 22 September, signaling that Pakistan will be a major stake holder in the peace process. The increasing complex relations in the region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Pakistan and the US will certainly go a long way in determining emerging contours of peace and conflict in the war-torn country.

On 23 September the body of slain leader will be laid to rest near his home in Kabul. One may with sheer sense of poise and fatalism argue that the killing of Rabbani is not the end of peace process in Afghanistan. One may have rays of hope following the line of Karzai, “It is our responsibility to act against those who are enemies of peace.” In the whole conflict and peace spectrum in the region, the central question still remains poignantly vivid: how to bring the hard line elements particularly the Taliban and their supporters like Haqqani network to peace table. Unless, that central question is addressed with all urgency, and unless these hard line elements change their policies, many Rabbanis will be sacrificed on the altar of the peace process with or without trifle results.

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Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, currently part of the research faculty at the Centre for Central Eurasian Studies, University of Mumbai, India. He specializes on issues of conflict, peace and development, terrorism and strategic aspects of Central Eurasia.

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 26 Sep 2011.

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