The joint, cross-border peace Jirga held in Kabul, the Afghan capital, on Aug. 9–12, brought together about 700 representatives from the Afghan and Pakistani Pashtun tribes. This grand assembly, the first of its kind, provided a searing exposé of, on the one hand, the dilemma facing Afghanistan and, on the other hand, the labyrinthine character of Pakistan's relations with Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban.
While voicing concerns about the functioning of the Taliban training centers on Pakistani soil, the Afghan delegates overwhelmingly came out in favor of the notion that the war on terrorism in Afghanistan had reached a deadlock largely because of the Taliban violence orchestrated by Pakistani military intelligence (ISI).
Pakistani representatives were divided into two groups with different views. The first is an Islamist group that supports Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. It tried to question the presence of international forces in Afghanistan and called for their replacement with troops from Islamic countries. Some even likened the U.S. troops to those of the Russians in the 1980s and asked the Afghans give the U.S. forces similar treatment.
The other group, mainly representing nationalist and secular Pashtun parties from Pakistan, disclosed how the military regime in Islamabad has a multi-layered strategy toward Afghanistan. Some delegates hinted that they were given the agenda of their speech by the government of Pakistan, limiting them to talk only on the problem of the Taliban inside Afghanistan.
If so, they went off-message when speaking about the harsh truths of the Pakistani tribal territories bordering Afghanistan, known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). They discussed how these areas have essentially been turned into little states controlled by Al-Qaeda and Taliban militia.
Since the creation of Pakistan 60 years ago, these agencies have been governed by political agents who have a strong bond with the ISI, in a way similar to how the British Raj ruled the tribal colonies in the 19th century.
The delegates described the political agents as tyrants who can arrest and kill whomever they want. While Islamabad says to the international community that it is fighting terrorists in these areas, the ISI is sending missionaries to lure local militants into secret peace deals.
Pakistan, it seems, is still haunted by the ghosts of its past, and is unwilling to give up on the use of the Taliban for its domestic politics as well as strategic regional agenda. Experience of the past three decades indicates that Pakistan's military intelligence, which is the sole power in the country, is good at reading the Afghan psyche, embedded in conservative Islam. It also knows how to exploit the Afghans: If you have a leader of any militant group in Afghanistan as your stooge, the entire movement is yours.
The Taliban's leadership hasn't been blown apart. Many relevant commentators believe it is still controlled by the ISI, for the Taliban is largely a hypnotized religious movement with no hard-core ideology of its own. The ISI draws on the Taliban's religious perversity to kill advocates of Pashtun nationalism and counterbalance Indian influence in Kashmir and Afghanistan.
This explains the Byzantine complexity of the Pakistan military's relations with the Taliban. Sarah Ghayes discloses Pakistani tactics in her "The Punishment of Virtue": "If the Afghans and the Americans gets angry, the Pakistanis catch a few Talibs [Taliban] and tell the real ones to stay quiet for a month or two. This is the Pakistani strategy: They advance by taking two steps forwards and four steps back."
Pakistani religious parties are the other players in the game. They act as a go-between for both leaders in Islamabad and the Taliban. Maulana Fazlur Rahman, known among Pakistanis as "Maulana Diesel," is the supreme collaborator to both sides. He is leading a coalition of religious parties that with the help of ISI, controls Pakistan's border province. He boycotted the Kabul Jirga to please the Taliban.
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who had refused at the last minute to attend the Jirga, hogged the limelight when he unexpectedly turned up at the concluding session, reportedly after a midnight phone call from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
His obfuscating speech reflected his domestic politics and his strained relations with the United States over the issues of al-Qaeda's sanctuary and the Taliban's training camps across the tribal belt in his country. He admitted that the Taliban are being supported on the Pakistan side of the border and pleaded for Afghan trust in Pakistan's commitment to war on terrorism and the Taliban.
When Musharraf put down the Taliban rebellion in Islamabad's Red Mosque last month, he signaled that the ongoing battle inside Pakistan is only with those al-Qaeda and pro-Taliban factions who attempt to operate independently of Pakistani generals.
The Kabul Jirga seems to have done little to persuade Pakistan to put its heart in the war on Islamist terrorism or cut off its umbilical cord with the Taliban. Pakistan is secretly committed to the Taliban's victory. If this proves to be impossible, the fallback would be a hope for the Nepalese solution to the Taliban. In Nepal, the Maoists struck a deal to join the peace process after a decade of violence.
Dr. Ehsan Azari is an Afghan writer based in Sydney, Australia. Copyright © Dr. Ehsan Azari