In the weeks after Rabbani’s death by deceit and in the days after President Karzai’s oblique announcement of a new peace strategy, Afghans are trying to make sense of a complicated and murky situation. They are thinking out loud and what they say illustrates the complexity and the confusion, the diverging view points and the internal contradictions. A few longer conversation excerpts give a taste:
Tribal elder from Paktika:
“What Karzai is saying now, is in reality what the Jaimat leaders and those who are not with him and who don’t want to be with him, have been saying for a long time: ‘we shouldn’t talk to the Taleban, we should break their teeth’. If Karzai really can put pressure on Pakistan, it is good. But the ISI is very sophisticated. It is difficult to make deals. I don’t think our government is up to the task. We are so dependent on Pakistan, if Pakistan closes the door, we will die of hunger.
The real problem is of course the Durand Line; if an agreement is signed today, tomorrow the Taleban will be gone. As long as it is not signed, Afghanistan will have problems. But it should not be signed. It is a decision that the government cannot take, it belongs to the people. Everyone knows that the land used to belong to us and that the border divides the tribes like two separated brothers.
It is becoming very complicated. Sirajuddin Haqqani said the Americans tried to talk to me. Pakistan says the US should not try to do things behind our backs, but they should talk to us directly. Karzai says I cannot talk to the Taleban, because I don’t know their address. How can he say that? The Taleban are not hidden, they are as clear as the noqut [chickpea] I am holding in my hand right now.
We have more than 300,000 people in our district, but can you show me one person from our tribe who is in the peace council? Or even in a local government position? Of course if you send people from Herat and Kunduz and from other areas to the borders, they will not be able to do anything. How can they talk to anyone? The Taleban are not from outside, they are from our areas and we know them, we can talk to them. Our problems will be solved when we have someone in government, even if it is in a small post. But it has to be a trusted person. Then all people will come to that person. Even the Taleban will watch on television. And they will talk to that person. Or they will try to kill him.”
Businessman and former politician from Ghazni:
“Last week the Minister of Interior came to Ghazni. He said it will be possible to hand-over security in 2014, but I don’t think so. At night you see no one in the bazaar because of the feeling of terror. People fear the Taleban and they fear the thieves. Every night the police posts are shot at. Schools are very limited. The government officials don’t leave the asphalted roads. The Minister just says this to make his own job look good. I have friends who work in the security service. They have a government card and a Taleban card. And the Taleban is the same, they receive money from the Taleban and from the government. They are all in touch with some government officials that are their friends or contacts and they get informal payments from them. Everybody is in touch with everybody and is trying to ensure their own safety. There is no political or economic stability in our country. Karzai cannot make his own policy on any of the big issues. There is no united plan or vision. The situation is totally mixed up.
Karzai signed the strategic agreement with India and he is putting pressure on Pakistan. That’s good. The Taleban is supported by Pakistan and if you put pressure on the centre, for sure you will be able to gather the branches. If it is a joint decision and Karzai can do this together with India, then Pakistan can decrease the destruction and violence that comes from the Taleban … The Taleban are not logical, you cannot reason with them. They kill, they block progress. They don’t want to be part of the current social world order. Other people in Afghanistan want to be connected to progress, they want peace. They will work for it in their own area, but the Taleban destroy their own area.”
Leader of a democratic party in Kabul:
“The death of Rabbani has in a way created space. It was such a buzkashi, with everyone trying to compete to talk to the Taleban. It had really become a source of prestige to be talking to the Taleban … The reason why the Taleban are so strong is because they are receiving help from within the government. The fundamentalists are, in general, very strong in the government. They have all the contracts and all the projects. They should have been dealt with in the beginning, when Rabbani agreed to step down and not claim the Presidency, but instead they were treated as if they held all power and now they are powerful.
Our party has spoken against them everywhere; we have defended democracy and human rights. We have become like a joke. But nobody has tested our capacity. All money is given to the jihadi leaders and then they say that we have not been able to show anything. Let’s test and compare: whatever these leaders can do with $1 million, we can do more with $100,000. Look at them now, they cannot even leave their houses out of fear … It is still not too late, you can still influence Karzai to appoint some democrats and moderate people, you can still give some funds to a democratic party instead of to these leaders … We are not pessimistic. We have good people in government and in Parliament. But it is not systematic or organized. And we do not have an open door like these leaders; we are not in charge of appointments like them.”
Businessman from Balkh:
“Surely there was involvement from this side in Rabbani’s death. Whoever killed him from this side, Karzai will have to investigate it and he will have to make a sacrifice. They say that the people around him were involved, maybe he himself didn’t know about it … I don’t think the killings are a matter of revenge against leaders who did human rights abuses in the past. If this were the case, they should be killing all leaders. This is the ISI working against Jamiat and Shura-ye Nazar, because they stood against them at the gates of Kabul and in Panjshir and Takhar. They want to get rid of the northern leaders. Groups are trying to make chaos, so that Pakistan can run everything again.
There are different kinds of Taleban: those directed by the ISI and they hit only Afghans; those supported by the internationals; those supported by the [Afghan] government ; and those who understand nothing and who hit everybody. The Quetta shura is gap-e hawai [meaningless]. The Taleban is not a political movement, they have no united leadership, they have just the ISI.
I don’t believe the foreigners are leaving in 2014, they are just saying that for internal consumption. Look at the huge bases they are building. Their foreign policy has been determined long ago, it does not change that fast. It is a long term policy to take Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and to make a base in the region.”
Community leader from Kandahar:
“The High Peace Council was meaningless from the beginning. Whenever you talked to the President or to members of the council they said: ‘we are in touch with them, there is good progress.’ But they were talking to liars and deceivers. When I am in Pakistan I hear from people close to the Taleban that they were not in touch at all and that they were not interested in the government’s peace. But they were in touch with the Americans to try to get an office in Qatar. They want to solve their problems with the Americans first, without the government. They had no contacts with Mojadedi or Rabbani. Mojadedi was only appointed to keep him happy and Rabbani was appointed to split him from the United Front. Both projects provided a source of income for many people, although I think Rabbani was honest. He didn’t need the money. I think he wanted to do something good and got caught up in something unlucky. The mechanism just wasn’t sound.
The whole world has lists of who is in the Quetta shura. This man Esmatullah* isn’t on any of them. He had no post until now. Still he was trusted. He was in Kabul for three days, he was not searched. That is how simple they are, that they cannot tell the difference between a suicider and peace negotiator.
The Taleban are tired, they want a solution. But they don’t want to surrender. They cannot live in Afghanistan, so they have to stay in Pakistan and take their instructions. But they are not happy, in their heart they are not in agreement. They want a role in Afghanistan, not just a cash grant and a piece of land like the peace council was giving.
The Pashtuns are just as upset about the death of Rabbani as the Tajiks, maybe even more. The way he was killed was so cowardly. He was killed by a Pakistani agent, who was not representing the Pashtuns. Politicians have to unite in the face of this, not talk against each other or against the international community.”
* This is a correction from a previous typo (which said Enayatullah).
This article was last updated on 31 Mar 2020