Afghan issue back on the menu at Peshawar’s hotel
PESHAWAR, Feb 7: The Khushal Hall of Peshawar’s sole five-star hotel has been witness to significant political manoeuvering in Afghanistan’s bloody history, showcasing brisk activities ahead of changes in the war-torn country.
So much so that shortly before the fall of the Taliban regime, the ‘Peshawar Group’, a conglomeration of Afghan warlords and splinter groups, held its first open meeting at Khushal Hall named after great worrier and poet Khushal Khan Khattak, to deliberate upon the situation developing in their country.
Pir Syed Ahmad Gilani, chief of National Islamic Front of Afghanistan, was the moving spirit behind the formation of Assembly for Peace and National Unity of Afghanistan, or, in other words, the Peshawar Group.
Pir Gilani had convened the jirga of the Afghan warlords in Khushal Hall. Nobody at that time expected open gathering of the anti-Taliban forces in Peshawar.
The movement and open activities of the anti-Taliban groups and commanders in Peshawar were clear indications that mentors were mentally prepared either to get rid of the regime in Kabul or use them as bargaining chip. However, suddenly 9/11 happened which changed the whole scenario.
Ten years after 9/11, architects and beneficiaries of the Afghan jihad assembled at the Khushal Hall on January 31. Retired chief of Jamaat-i-Islami Qazi Hussain Ahmad hosted the conference “The Afghan issue: regional implications and suggestions for sustainable peace” under the umbrella of Centre for Discussions and Solutions (CDS).
The CDS conference was overshadowed by former civil and military officers, who have equal role in sending Afghanistan into the Stone Age, Jamaat-i-Islami’s like-minded intellectuals and Afghan opposition leaders, who were near and dear to the American Empire during the Soviet occupation of the country.
Moderators very smoothly ran the function. Menu for lunch and dinner was very rich but list of the guests from Afghanistan was not impressive. Key players of the bloody game who were nurtured here during last 30 years were absent from the show. Probably they are now in direct contact with Washington or not happy with Islamabad’s pro-Taliban stance. That was they were not present.
Only political adviser of Gulbadin Hikmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami Dr Ghairat Baheer and former interim Prime Minister Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, head of United Coalition Front of Afghanistan were the key leaders.
No representative of any Taliban faction, Haqqani Network or Afghan government attended the conference. Absence of the main stakeholders from the event indicates present position and role of Islamabad in the reshaping future of Afghanistan.
This was evident from the remarks of Gen Hamid Gul, the self declared architect of the Afghan Jihad and Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chief of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam.
Gen Hamid Gul in his address regretted that Pakistan had been bypassed in Talks with Taliban going on in Qatar peninsula. Maulana Fazl said that Pakistan has been isolated and the ‘students’ are now in the lap of Washington. The Maulana also disclosed that Taliban and Americans were in contact for the last four years and Pakistan was always at the receiving end in the Afghan issue.
Nevertheless Pakistan was holding many cards even after 9/11 and despite fall of the Taliban government in Kabul which was a major setback. A strong corps of anti-Taliban commanders and opposition members though they were not happy with Islamabad at time were residing in Peshawar.
Apart from Pir Syed Gilani’s “Peshawar Group”, a body called “Eastern Shura” comprising anti-Taliban warlords, was allowed to open its office in the University Town, Peshawar. Jalaluddin Haqqani, a proponent of the Pakistan strategic depth was regularly visiting Islamabad in those days.
There was hustle bustle of the anti-Taliban commanders and warlords in the dusty and narrow lanes of Peshawar. Afghan warlords were getting free satellite phone sets and cash dollars. A warlord based in Peshawar who later became Corps Commander of Nangarhar province recommended sites of potential threat for air strikes.
The level of frustration expressed by some speakers in the CDS conference clearly indicated that Pakistan’s choices and options have squeezed to greater extant. Position of the much touted Haqqani Network is still unclear though Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has expressed her willingness to influence the network play role for bringing peace to the war-torn country.
However, ground realities are different. Pakistan’s Afghan policy is now largely depending upon Hikmatyar group, which is considered Islamabad’s most loyal and close sympathiser in Afghanistan.
Gulbadin Hikmatyar has expressed serious reservations over the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar and their secret talks with the Americans. Hikmatyar’s Hizb-i-Isalmi has become active after opening of the Qatar office. His family and relatives have resurfaced and rented bungalows in Margalla range. The party is organising conference on the Afghan issue in Blue Area, Islamabad, on February 19.
The visible change is that before 9/11 Sameeul Haq was organising activities under the banner of Pakistan-Afghanistan Defence Council, while after 10 years, Qazi Hussain’s CDS has been tasked to mobilise supporters for safeguarding national interests.