Afghan Taliban threaten death to all talking peace
Scribbled notes from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar have surfaced in mosques all over Afghanistan's ethnic Pashtun heartland, threatening death to anyone who takes up a government offer to negotiate for peace, according to a longtime Taliban member.world Updated: Nov 05, 2010 16:34 IST
Scribbled notes from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar have surfaced in mosques all over Afghanistan's ethnic Pashtun heartland, threatening death to anyone who takes up a government offer to negotiate for peace, according to a longtime Taliban member.
Trying to quash rumors of a break in their ranks, the Taliban also have vehemently denied reports that representatives of the militant group were involved in negotiations with the Afghan government.
The leadership could be worried that commanders might strike separate deals that would threaten to undermine the insurgency and cripple the morale of their rank-and-file fighters. President Hamid Karzai has made reconciliation a top priority and recently formed a 70-member High Peace Council to find a political solution to the insurgency. At the same time, the US-led coalition has ramped up its military campaign in an effort to pound midlevel commanders to the negotiating table.
There are no signs that either strategy is having much effect on the senior Taliban leadership. A veteran Taliban member who recently visited the powerful shura or council in the Pakistani city of Quetta and controlled by Mullah Omar said there was no talk of negotiation among those who control the insurgency.
"None of the big Taliban is talking," the bulky, bearded Taliban member said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal from both the government and the religious movement. "I have been to Quetta and I know the council there is not talking." He also said the handwritten scribbled notes started appearing in mosques shortly after news of Karzai's peace overture was broadcast around the country. In the past, Mullah Omar has used notes and sometimes audio recordings to get his message across.
Even if the top Taliban leadership did not participate, a number of exploratory talks have taken place with the militants over the past two years, according to lawmakers, peace council delegates and former and current members of the Taliban. The talks were held in various places, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan, said Habibullah Fauzi, a peace council member who once served as the Taliban's ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
"It's not because they can bring Taliban fighters with them that they are talking," Fauzi said. "Some are facing problems and don't know if they can stay safe in Pakistan; or some were not given the powerful positions in the Taliban they thought they might have." According to peace council members, those who have held talks with government officials include Maulvi Abdul Kabir, the former Taliban governor of Nangarhar province; Aga Jan Mohtasim, a former Taliban finance minister and current member of the Taliban council in Pakistan's North Waziristan area; Maulvi Akhtar Mansoor, a former Taliban minister of civil aviation; Qatradullah Jamal, a former Taliban information minister; and Tayyab Agha, a special assistant to Omar.
Kabir and two other midlevel Taliban leaders met with Karzai in mid-October to discuss the Haqqani network, an al-Qaida-linked group that controls much of eastern Afghanistan. A former Afghan official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the discussion did not focus on the peace effort, but rather on weakening the Haqqani network's influence in eastern Afghanistan by dividing tribal loyalties between its leader and Kabir.
In his interview, the 15-year Taliban veteran gave an insight into the increasing violence as the group shifts its fight from the south, where it is constantly attacked by NATO forces, to eastern provinces such as Ghazni. Taliban fighters overran a county seat in Ghazni on November 1, captured its headquarters and police station and set both ablaze.
"Ghazni now is worse than Helmand because the Taliban are everywhere, and the Americans are bombing and attacking Taliban every day and in the night they come with their helicopters," he said. "We have Punjabis, Arabs, Chechens and Pakistani Pashtuns coming over the mountains."
In the Pakistani city of Quetta, he said, Afghan Taliban are sheltered by members of Jaish-e-Mohammed, an extremist group believed to have been organized a decade ago with the help of Pakistani intelligence to fight the Indians in disputed Kashmir.
He said those who cross the frontier from Pakistan bring bombs, which they assemble in Ghazni and then give to local fighters for use elsewhere, adding that he personally saw this happen several days earlier.