By Syed Saleem Shahzad (Asia Times September 22, 2003)
KARACHI - Faced with escalating unrest and an increasingly stronger and more organized guerrilla resistance in Afghanistan, the United States has stepped up efforts to address the country's troubles, including its moves to draw elements of the ousted Taliban back into the political process.
Asia Times Online broke the news on September 12 (Tribes, traditions and two tragedies ) that a new Taliban grouping under the name of Jaishul Muslim had been formed to at least talk to the US about political developments. Apart from Mullah Abdul Razzak, a Pakistani who was a defense minister in the Taliban regime, the group consists of low profile Taliban, and not Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
On September 17, the organization was finally officially launched in the Pakistani border city of Peshawar. Its founder, Akbar Agha, issued a statement that was prominently reported in the Pakistani Urdu daily Nawai Waqat, in which he called for a jihad against the US "invaders" in Afghanistan, but at the same time criticized Mullah Omar's "self-centered" policies.
In the Afghan capital Kabul, meanwhile, in an address to a council of clerics, interim chairman Hamid Karzai claimed that not all Taliban were involved in war crimes during their rule from 1996 to the end of 2001. Therefore, he argued, those who were not involved in any kind of crime could be considered for inclusion in the government setup.
Ever since abandoning power in the face of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban have slowly regrouped, to the point that they now command widespread support in many parts of the country, especially in the south and southeast, and they continue to harass US-led forces as well as the newly-constituted Afghan Army.
US intelligence clearly realized this situation, and since the beginning of the year it has attempted to reach a compromise with the Taliban, on the proviso that they (the US) do not lose face.
Asia Times Online on June 14 reported on the first attempts (US turns to the Taliban) in which a meeting was set up by a jihadi leader with close Taliban, al- Qaeda and Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) links. The meeting took place between representatives of the ISI, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Taliban leaders at the Pakistan Air Force base of Samungli, near Quetta.
Several demands were dished out to the Taliban, which were set as pre-conditions for the inclusion of the Taliban in the Afghan government:
Mullah Omar must be removed as supreme leader of the Taliban.
All Pakistani, Arab and other foreign fighters currently engaged in operations against international troops in Afghanistan must be thrown out of the country.
Any US or allied soldiers held captive must be released.
Afghans currently living abroad, notably in the United States and England, must be given a part in the government - through being allowed to contest elections - even though many do not even speak their mother tongue, such as Dari or Pashtu.
The talks ended very quickly as the Taliban refused to accept the first condition, on which they made it clear that they could not show any flexibility.
After this failure, both the Pakistan and US intelligence establishments did a lot of groundwork to develop a proxy organization that would help split the Taliban and reduce the intensity of its resistance movement. The Taliban's second line, third line and even fourth line were given attractive offers, and finally the Jaishul Muslim came into being.
Asia Times Online sources familiar with the negotiations that led to the creation of the Jaishul Muslim say that the plan is for its members to infiltrate camps in Afghanistan where jihadis are trained. Here, and subsequently in the field, they will attempt to sway Taliban commanders with the offer of a place in the government as an inducement. If they are successful, it would obviously be severely damaging to the Taliban's morale.
However, there are serious doubts that, without Mullah Omar, any movement could really say that it represented the Taliban. At the same time, the organization has been planned and launched in Pakistan, and seemingly it has little, if any, support within Afghanistan itself.
In the initial days when the Taliban retreated from Kabul and Kandahar, a similar group was set up, the Jamiat-i-Khudamul Koran (Organization of the Servants of the Koran). This was in fact the real name of the Taliban movement when it first emerged in the 1980s in Quetta and Peshawar - and also with the help of the ISI.
The Jamiat's members were mostly former ministers in the Taliban regime critical of Mullah Omar giving shelter to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. They vowed that they would revive the Taliban in its original form.
The group then disappeared from the headlines. However, a few months ago, some intelligence sources said that the organization had again joined hands with the Taliban and was engaged in fighting against the US and its allies, notably in eastern Afghanistan.
Such are the shifting sands of Afghan politics into which the US is now treading ever further and further.