‘The aim is to bring in someone who is pro-Pakistan’.
NEW DELHI: The long-term objective of the Taliban is to replace Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani with a political structure that will be headed by the Taliban itself, three people who are closely associated with the Taliban have told The Sunday Guardian.
According to these people, Ghani was seen as someone who is “pro-India” and his removal from the said post was one of the most vital goals that Taliban, which is acting as the proxy of the Pakistan deep state, is going to push for in the near future.
“The Haqqani network is ‘massively influential’ in the scheme of things in Afghanistan right now. The peace process is the first step towards politicizing the Taliban, the next step is to remove Ghani and bring in someone who is pro-Pakistan. The Haqqanis have been given a template by the deep state of Pakistan (that includes ISI, Army and the political entities) and they are working their way up by following this template. The Taliban is very clear that it wants to assume power soon, preferably without the use of arms,” a source within the Taliban told The Sunday Guardian.
Another source confirmed that a majority of the approximately 5,000 Taliban prisoners, whose release, is likely to decide the future of the US-Taliban peace pact, owe their allegiance to Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI and are associated with the Haqqani network.
The political leadership of Afghanistan, too, believe that it is because of the links between these Taliban prisoners and the ISI, that Pakistan is pushing for their release by using the Taliban as a front.
Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Dr Abdullah Haiwad, President of the Afghanistan Governors’ Assembly (ASA), a prominent Kabul-based body of 66 former and present governors of the country, called the incarcerated Taliban prisoners as “proxy warriors” of the Pakistan army.
“Part of the Taliban prisoners are Pakistani army proxy warriors who have been detained or taken prisoners in this war and hence Pakistan is pushing Taliban to seek their safe return. That is one of the reasons why Qureshi (Pakistan external affairs minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi) and Prime Minister Imran khan were present in Doha to ensure a deal with Taliban that benefits Pakistan was signed,” Haiwad, who has been the governor of Ghor province, said.
The Taliban, on its part, has already announced that it will not take part in intra-Afghan talks until these 5,000 prisoners are released in accordance with a deal struck with Washington. Simultaneously, to put pressure on the Afghanistan government, it has also been carrying out attacks in the country despite the truce agreement in place.
The Taliban has claimed—an assertion backed by Pakistan—that one of the main conditions in the pact that it signed with the United States was that by 10 March, 5000 of its men, who are in various prisons of Afghanistan, will be set free by the Afghanistan government. This, however, has been denied by Afghanistan which has maintained that it was made aware of no such conditions.
The Sunday Guardian reached out to Suhail Shaheen, Taliban’s political spokesperson and Zabihullah Mujahid, their military spokesperson for a response, but both of them chose not to comment on the developments.
According to Abdullah Haiwad, it was known to everyone in Kabul that ISI has been assisting Taliban in the long war against Afghans and US government. “Pakistan is very much interested in pushing the Afghan government to accept terms that were put in by the Pakistani government (related to release of the 5,000 prisoners) in the Qatar agreement,” he said.
Haiwad said that the US government was in a rush to sign the agreement. “The ground situation is not good now and both Afghan government and the Taliban did not agree on a unified platform for a long lasting peace. Afghani people will be happy to see Indian peace keeping forces in Afghanistan, but this will not be accepted by Pakistanis and their agent in Afghanistan,” he added while responding to whether Indian troops would be welcomed in Afghanistan.
Kabul-based sources have also told The Sunday Guardian that there was an inner conflict going on between the Taliban leaders as a prominent section was not in the favour of the release of the 5,000 prisoners. “The conflict is there as many of the leaders do not want Pakistan’s interference in the country which includes the release of the 5,000 people which Taliban is pushing for,” a lawmaker based in Kabul said.
The same was confirmed by US Defence Secretary Mark Esper who on 4 March told the members of the US Senate: “Keeping that group of people on board is a challenge. They’ve got their range of hard-liners and soft-liners and so they’re wrestling with that too.”
Dr Allah Nazar Baloch, the Balochistan based chief of Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), told The Sunday Guardian that it was clear that Pakistan never wanted a stable Afghanistan. According to him, the ground situation in Afghanistan was as it was before Doha accord.
“The Taliban are still well armed and carrying out attacks against Afghan forces. This week, the Taliban attacked more than 41 check posts in Helmand province while American forces retaliated in the same way. Pakistan doesn’t want a stable Afghanistan since times immemorial and that is why President Ashraf Ghani has put a condition before the Taliban that they should first cut off their ties with Pakistan and then only can the Afghanistan government think about releasing the prisoners.” he said.
According to Dr Baloch, who quoted sources for the information, more than 16,000 Taliban men were in prison, with many of them hardcore members and not just over ground workers.