The return of Taliban to Kabul is a matter of special concern for Russia and the neighboring CIS (the Community of Independent Nations) states. President Karzai believes Afghanistan is a sovereign country and has a right to determine its own fate, including the involvement of Taliban into the political process. He is self-assured and not concerned a bit about the fact that with ISAF gone the Taliban can come back to the political scene and share power. Those who took the reins after the Soviet forces withdrawal let the movement turn Afghanistan into the springboard of international terrorism. They were self-assured too. Those who headed the country back then had no political will to make the gained independence work for the benefit of Afghan people.
Now Karzai is on the verge of repeating the same mistake, he goes on insisting his government is ready to take on full responsibility for the future of the country. Actually the incumbent Afghan government is siding with the United States and NATO getting the country embroiled into the mess with consequences hard to predict… The US-led NATO readiness to retain its presence within the framework of Resolute Support mission aimed at security transfer to Afghan forces should not mislead. The same way, according to NATO, Kabul is already responsible for 90% of combat operations inside the country, but it does not mean the puppet regime is strong enough. NATO evidently exaggerates saying the government forces enjoy the support of major part of population. The affirmations of the West that the Taliban enjoys only minor public support after the 12-year war, that brought about no tangible results, look more like an awkward propaganda maneuvering to cover up the fact that the US-led operation is a failure.
Will ISAF leave fully or let some forces stay as part of the Resolute Support? It all depends on the US and the Karzai-led government; will they let the Taliban return to the country?
The moment of truth has come. The US and NATO are to report to the international community on the results of their 12-year presence in Afghanistan. It’s not serious when they say the 100 thousand strong force has eliminated the Al Qaeda’s infrastructure and it’s the major achievement of the West. Afghanistan faces the prospect of becoming a Taliban dominated state once again.
The movement is supported by Pakistan – its homeland. For Islamabad the friendly Taliban-controlled Kabul is a strategic advantage. Let me remember that during five years of the Taliban rule, the movement failed to spread its control throughout the entire country with all the leverage they had holding the reins of state power, and it was the failure for Pakistan too. Those days the Taliban got very limited international support from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, the countries that have not changed their stance as yet. The money flows coming from the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (more commonly known as Inter-Services Intelligence or simply by its initials ISI), never stopped, sometimes the process even ran out of government control. The Taliban is the only means of leverage Islamabad can use to influence the Afghan politics; the Pakistani elite will never sever ties with it. Pakistan will do its best to make the Taliban return as a result of reconciliation process under «the predominant role of Afghan people» meaning the possibility of making a choice thanks to elections at various levels.
The logic of Pakistani approach is based on the fact the Pashtun are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. The fact that it dominates the Taliban is hushed up. The calculations show the Taliban candidate has a chance to win at the election of 2014. In any event the new presidential election may become the main political event for Afghanistan. The incumbent head of state Hamid Karzai does not exclude the possibility the next presidential hopeful may come from the Taliban ranks. It could be the Taliban founder Muhammad Omar. Karzai is ready to cooperate with him on the condition the Taliban refuses armed struggle. It had been reported earlier the Taliban started to hold secret talks with the government. The place is not any foreign country but Kabul. It means the US supports the process. The position of Mullah Omar before the withdrawal is getting stronger; he knows the incumbent government is weak. So the Taliban leaders have not refused to take the power in Afghanistan into their hands again to revive the Islamic Emirate. No doubt the Taliban is intent to resort to forceful methods to the political management process.
The group has not said openly it intends to take part in the election though many forecast that Mullah Omar would hold a sweeping victory if he had an opportunity to run. The Taliban has many faithful supporters among the voters. At that, there are other options, the choice is not limited by the Taliban and the supporters of incumbent President Karzai, other Islamist political forces have emerged which are not that close to Islamabad and appear to be less radical in comparison with the Mullah Omar supporters.
Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf has registered at the offices of Kabul's Independent Election Commission. He is a Pashtun from Paghman valley and an hereditary theologian. Sayyaf is one of the most influential Islamist politicians of the country, for many years he led the Mujahedin faction Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan fighting against the Soviet Union. In February 1989 he was elected the first Prime Minister of Mujahedin transitional government, and then became a close associate of Afghan leaders Burhanuddin Rabbani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Sayyaf has always been an opponent of the Taliban and fought it together with the Northern Alliance. After the American forces came into the country he took the side of US and supported Karzai at the election.
Before the registration as a presidential hopeful, he had been a member of the lower chamber of parliament preserving the status of a conservative and respected imam. Field commander Ismail Khan agreed to become first Vice-President in the Sayyaf- led government if elected. Ismail Khan has always been influential in the western province of Herat near the Iranian border. Abdul Ahad Irfan, the chairman of parliamentary upper chamber and the leader of Afghanistan National Unity Committee, has registered too to run for the position of second Vice-President.
These personalities that make up the triumvirate of hopefuls may challenge the Islamist Taliban at the election. It’s up to people to appreciate the reputation of Sayyaf as a religious Pashtun leader and the fact he has broad connections among the Islamist groups inside Afghanistan and outside. The voters don’t doubt his military record and his influence in the western parts of the country. The Islamic youth has sympathy for his educational level; he is a new kind of religious preacher, who does not share the Taliban ideology which requires religious rigidity in all aspects of everyday life according to the Muslim moral standards of the times of Prophet Muhammad. Let’s not forget the Taliban banned women from leaving their houses. Now over two million girls go to school, over 300 thousand Afghan children have Facebook accounts, the young people younger than 25 years old account for 70 percent of population. All these factors have weight in case the election is fair.
If Sayyaf wins the presidential election the coalition he is going to head will cement ties with NATO as the organization that came to support Afghanistan in the times of trouble (a hint it seeks US blessing). Sayyaf promises to stick to the principle of equality in the process of national reconciliation and respect for all nationalities including: Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras which have never had real chances to have a President coming from their ranks. This time Abdullah Abdullah, former leader of Northern Alliance, runs too. He had got his registration two days before Sayyaf. It’s not excluded the both will agree on concerted actions against the Taliban which never shared his power with those who come from the north of the country. At present, as the experience of Karzai government shows, it’s impossible to talk about the Afghan unity without bringing in national and religious minorities. Under certain circumstances the Northern Alliance voters may shift to support Sayyaf, if no serious rivals appear. Minister of Foreign Affairs Zalmai Rassoul, liberal politician Ashraf Ghani, Qayum Karzai, the brother of incumbent President, – they all run and have hopes to win. The issue is defining the main sponsors, including the ones outside the country.
(To be concluded)