War & Peace

The Murree Process: Divisive peace talks further complicated by Mullah Omar’s death


Kabul newspaper frontpage, showing three main protagonists of the latest Taleban saga (from l. to r.; Mansur Dadullah; Rahmani, allegedly Omar).

Kabul newspaper frontpage, showing three main protagonists of the latest Taleban saga (from l. to r.; Mansur Dadullah; Rahmani, allegedly Omar).

News of Mullah Omar’s death was leaked just a day before a second meeting between Taleban and Afghan government representatives was supposed to have taken place. The first meeting on 7 July near Islamabad, in Murree, initiated the so-called Murree Process. The revelation of Mullah Omar’s death and subsequent struggle for succession in the Taleban leadership has thrown the whole process into uncertainty. However, AAN’s Borhan Osman argues it was murky from the beginning. Although the 7 July meeting was celebrated widely as a major breakthrough, it seems the Taleban were not there through choice but after intimidation from Pakistan. Osman warns that, even before the Taleban leadership crisis, Kabul’s choice of having Pakistan bring the Taleban to the table had already risked closing the doors to talks.

The Taleban’s new leader, Akhtar Muhammad Mansur, in his first statement since being acclaimed/claiming (depending on who you are in the Taleban movement) the supreme leadership of the movement emphasised that the fight would continue. He dismissed talks about peace as “enemies’ propaganda.” Prior to the publication of this speech in audio format on the Taleban website, Mansur had long been seen as one of the most pro-peace and moderate figures in the movement’s leadership. What he said in his first speech as official Taleban leader, however, is not yet enough to draw a more hawkish picture of him.

To start with, Mansur has not ruled out peace talks. He also added a caveat to his declaration of continuing jihad: if there is any important decision, it would be taken according to sharia, and the establishing of an Islamic system would be pursued through all ways, by ‘sword’ or talks (my emphasis – see footnote 1 for a translation of the part in which he talks about jihad and peace talks).

Moreover, it seems quite likely that he has adopted what looks like to be a hard-line position on peace talks in order to consolidate his power and unify the movement in the face of dissent. Mansur is under pressure. The official website has been at pains to show field commanders and others swearing oaths of loyalty (bayat) to Mansur. However, his leadership or at least the way it was rushed through and the decision made on Pakistani soil, has been openly challenged by Tayeb Agha, now former head of the Qatar office (he resigned over the issue yesterday, 4 August) and former close aide to Mullah Omar, as well as, reportedly, by members of Mullah Omar’s family and various figures, some of whom have been seen as ‘pro-Pakistan’ in the past. (Not on the list of challengers, it seems though, is Mansur’s former rival and key commander Mullah Zakir.)

From Mansur’s point of view, consolidation of his authority can best be achieved by his vow to continue jihad. The bulk of the Taleban see the fight against the Afghan government and its western backers as the normal and paramount method of struggle, with political efforts second to this. In contrast, any peace overtures, without emphasising jihad, could be interpreted by Taleban fighters as an unforgivable compromise and betrayal of their struggle. This approach of jihad as the normal path and talks as a caveat mirrors somehow what the last major policy guidance, Mullah Omar’s Eid message (issued on 15 June 2015 and now removed from the Taleban website), had tried to convey.

Mansur will probably push the war option more than peace in the short term to project himself as an uncompromising leader, of course if he survives the ongoing leadership struggle. The peace talks started under the Murree Process are in jeopardy – but was this really a sustainable process anyway?

First official talks?

For those who had been watching the Taleban’s public stance on peace talks, reports of the meeting between an Afghan government delegation (see a list of the delegation’s members in footnote 2) and representatives of the insurgents (biographical background in the annex) on 7 July near Islamabad were, at first, hard to believe. The Taleban had denounced repeatedly, through public statements and intermediaries, the national unity government’s approach of turning to Islamabad to bring the Taleban to the negotiating table. The movement had consistently rejected the idea that Pakistan had enough clout to persuade or force their leaders to talk.

Indeed, the Taleban have tried to keep the peace process as far from Pakistan’s influence as possible. By 2012, the leadership had sent members of the Political Commission to Qatar – a country over which Pakistan has no known leverage – to open a political office there. The office (which was subsequently formally closed, but which has continued working unofficially, read AAN analysis here and here) had the job of officially representing the Taleban, including in peace talks. The office team members’ families were also sent to Qatar and the commission members themselves have since avoided visiting Pakistan, precisely in order to minimise its ability to manipulate their work.

Despite all this, on 7 July, we saw the first formal although (by the Taleban) officially unacknowledged talks between the Afghan government and the Taleban happen in Pakistan and with its facilitation (see reports of the event here and here). Those Taleban who participated in the four-hours Murree talks included figures of such seniority and authority that no room was left but to conclude the meeting had been endorsed, at least tacitly, by the movement’s leadership. The presence of Akhtar Mansur’s ‘chief of staff’ Latif Mansur (not related by tribe or family to the new Taleban leader) and (till recently) head of the Taleban health commission Mullah Muhammad Abbas Akhund (see bios below), who is also a member of the Leadership Council (rahbari or ‘Quetta’ shura), in particular, was enough to render the meeting ‘official’. But did the presence of these senior Taleban representatives actually mean that formal public talks with the Afghan government had begun?

Pakistan outsmarting Taleban

Taleban sources in the Political Commission, ie the Qatar office, and close to it have spoken to AAN about the Murree meeting. They described unanimously how Pakistan used a sleight of hand to persuade the senior officials to attend Murree. Some of these sources said they were not allowed to share all the details. Their versions of events varied, but displayed enough shared detail to make their contention that Pakistan had played a mischievous persuasive role. The details also help make sense of the confusion, shock and utter disgust felt among the various branches of the Taleban at news of the talks as was reflected in their statements and reactions to the meeting. AAN also wanted to hear the Afghan government’s side of the story, but the leader of the Afghan delegation in these talks, Haji Din Muhammad, and other members were not ready to discuss details.

To understand the Murree saga, you need to go back earlier, to the beginning of March when, according to the Taleban sources AAN has spoken to, the movement’s leaders living in Pakistan were warned by the Pakistani government of the need to choose between launching talks with the Afghan government or “facing the consequences” of not doing so. The Leadership Council’s immediate response was to resist the pressure and ‘face the consequences’. To minimise Pakistani pressure, many leaders, civil and military, started to discreetly move out of the country, often with their families. One favourable destination was Iran, as well as Gulf countries and Afghanistan itself. The visit of the head of the Political Commission, Tayyeb Agha, to Tehran on 19 May 2015 was part of efforts to evacuate as many Taleban seniors as possible from Pakistan. The trip came at a time when Iran’s worries about the Islamic State (IS) emerging in its neighbouring country to the east had made it more ready to cooperate with the Taleban as a plausible counter-force against IS.

Pakistan continued to press nevertheless, Taleban sources told AAN. This resulted in a final agreement for the formal meeting between Taleban and Afghan government representatives in Murree. The meeting did have some form of blessing of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansur, at that stage still the acting head of the Leadership Council. However, the Taleban sources said the Murree meeting went ahead in violation of an agreement they had with Islamabad. What the exact terms of the agreement were, how unequivocal they were in their content, and how they were communicated is difficult to verify independently. What the sources claim is that not only was there a clear breach of a major part of the agreement, but also a multi-layered game of deception aimed at drawing the movement into public talks against its will.

Mullah Akhtar Mansur, according to these sources, gave a green light for the meeting on the condition that it not be publicised. He named Latif Mansur as the chief negotiator and said he would be joined by several mid-level members of the movement based in Pakistan, as well as members of the Political Commission from the Qatar office. Mullah Abbas insisted he should be present also, given his role as a liaison between Akhtar Mansur and the Pakistani government, it seems, after having been cajoled into doing so by Islamabad. Akhtar Mansur endorsed his participation also.

Members of the Qatar office defied Akhtar Mansur’s advice to attend the meeting. They even warned him that the meeting would have destructive consequences for the movement’s political efforts and its image. The Pakistani government, through Mullah Abbas, implored the Political Commission to send its members, but to no avail. On the day of the meeting, reports of the Qatar office members attending the meeting kept floating anyway; sourced apparently to the Pakistani government (see here, here and here).

If the Qatar office members had gone, this would have boosted Pakistan’s kudos still further. Islamabad could then have sold the meeting as an even greater success, especially to China and perhaps to the United States (both present at the meeting as ‘observers’) as participation from the Qatar-based Taleban would have made the meetings more inclusive. Members of the Qatar office told AAN, though, they had not felt able to trust Pakistan to keep its word on the secrecy of the meeting and, therefore, had refused to send representatives to Murree. One member said: “It was on the basis of our understanding of [Pakistan’s] behaviour that we thought holding this kind of meeting under its full control would put too much at stake. And we are happy our leaders [Akhtar Mansur] back in Pakistan [finally] realised we were right.”

The realisation among the Taleban’s Pakistan-based leadership that the meeting would be manipulated did indeed come, but, it seems, just hours before it was due to take place – after both Afghan and Pakistani governments had made it public. By that time, it was too late for Akhtar Mansur to call it off. However, at the last minute, he did manage to tell other participants who were on their way to Murree, who were junior to Latif Mansur and Abbas, to reverse their course. Taleban sources said Islamabad later explained the breach of the ‘secrecy clause’ as a result of extreme pressure from the Afghan government and that they were sorry about it.

In addition to attending a meeting that was public, the Taleban representatives at Murree found they were facing their Afghan government counterparts while simultaneously sitting at the table with a number of the most senior generals from Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI. The Taleban negotiators may have felt they were being presented as a gift to the Afghan government delegation. The unexpected presence of the generals could also have been designed to intimidate the Taleban negotiators.

Why Akhtar Mansur agreed to this meeting in the first place, despite opposition from the Qatar office, was explained by the sources as follows: primarily, he intended to relieve the Taleban of the increasing pressure by Pakistan. But rather than agreeing to serious, formal and public talks with the Afghan government, he wanted the Murree event to remain private. He had tried not to damage the Taleban’s narrative of distance to Pakistan. He also did not want to look to be bypassing the movement’s formal channel for talks, ie the Qatar office. At the same time, he was convinced he could use the meeting, which he thought was inevitable, for something: to signal that the Taleban were willing to hold formal talks, which would come soon.

The above explanation of Mansur’s thinking by the Qatar office members, though, might also just be a smart justification aimed at covering the disagreement between the Qatar office and Mansur over the Murree meeting.

If the Taleban’s version of the pre-meeting agreement is true, it seems that, for Pakistan, the political credit for managing to hold such a meeting was too tempting not to publicise it. One Taleban source termed it “a huge victory” for Pakistan, which had been trying to project itself so tenaciously as the essential peace broker. Islamabad’s excitement about the meeting could be seen in the way its intelligence agency (here), military (here) and civil officials (here) talked about the ‘achievement’.

The meeting highlighted three contradictions in the Taleban’s narrative. First, its long-held repugnance at being portrayed as a proxy of Pakistan was, of course, taken less seriously. Second, the meeting belied the movement’s consistently portrayed position that the Qatar office is the sole address for political efforts. Third, the Taleban’s projection of coherence in their communications and internal policies was put in question.

While the first two inconsistencies have hardly ever been completely invisible, the lack of coordination between the Qatar office and the Taleban leadership in Pakistan mostly surfaced after the Murree meeting. At the core of the disagreement was how to deal with Islamabad and how much Pakistani influence can be tolerated in a peace process. (This issue will be followed up in a future dispatch.)

The Murree talks were not Pakistan’s first attempt to take control of the Taleban talks – or of disagreement between Akhtar Mansur and the Qatar office. A meeting between Afghan government officials and three Taleban representatives on 19 May in the Chinese city of Urumqi was endorsed reportedly also by Mansur, but then rejected by the political office. That meeting, too, was most likely a consequence of increasing Pakistan pressure on the Pakistan-based Afghan Taleban. It was also helped by the Afghan government’s interest in having China play a more active role by influencing its ally and recipient of aid, Pakistan.

Taleban responds by ‘empowering’ Qatar office 

The publicising of the Murree meeting to media and the presence of ISI generals made Pakistan’s heavy-handed facilitating role clear. It left the Taleban’s public relations arm and its Political Commission in Qatar struggling to explain what was going on there. The only official statement (although with no reference to the Murree meeting) issued a day after the meeting, 8 July 2015, was a cryptic, four-sentence press release, reiterating that the Political Commission in Qatar was the only authorised channel for talks. The last two sentences of the English version read:

“… from now onwards, all of Islamic Emirate’s foreign and internal political affairs are entrusted to the Islamic Emirate’s Political Office as their sole responsibility. The Political Office has full capacity and agency powers to conduct or postpone, in light of Islamic principles and national interests, negotiations with internal and foreign parties wherever and whenever it deems suitable”

The talks were not referred to directly and were neither rejected nor approved.

Also on 9 July 2015, an article attributed to an individual author briefly appeared on the Taleban’s English website. It provided a useful clue of how the Taleban, in Qatar, Pakistan or both, saw the manipulated Murree meeting. Unlike the official statement, it explicitly rejected the authority of the Taleban delegates and condemned Pakistan for presenting Taleban attending in what it called “their personal capacity” as official negotiators. However, that article was taken down hours after its publication since it could have put the movement into full confrontation with Pakistan. In personal communications, Qatar office members said the Taleban representatives participating in the meeting had been “hijacked” by Pakistan. Therefore, they had not participated with any legitimate authority.

One week after the meeting, the Taleban website published four conditions for any peace process in the “weekly analysis” section of the movement’s website, which is run by the Pakistan-based Cultural Commission. This was certainly referring to the Murree meeting but, again, did not mention it explicitly. The first point was:

Commitment and sincerity are the foremost elements for the peace process. A peace process, which is also an Islamic obligation, should not be used as a tool for deception, cunning and accusation of the opposite side.

It endorsed firmly political efforts for ending the war and pointed to the Qatar office as the organ “entrusted with the responsibility of monitoring and conducting all political activities.” This was in line with this year’s Taleban Eid message issued, as always, in the name of Mullah Omar – no surprise, as already Mansur had effectively been running the Taleban for years and, most likely, he himself had the messages drafted.

According to the Qatar office members who talked to AAN, the Eid message, as well as the weekly comment implicitly meant their office was being promoted as a more independent organ of the movement, with decision-making authority on political efforts, and having exclusive responsibility over peace efforts. They said the two messages implied that the Qatar office no longer needed to have its decisions endorsed by the Leadership Council when it came to starting a peace effort, declaring certain peace events valid or invalid, or stopping talks altogether. Given the fall-out between the Qatar office and the then acting head of the Leadership Council, Akhtar Mansur, such an interpretation of the statements should be taken with a pinch of salt unless confirmed by sources around Mansur.

If true, endorsing the Qatar office as an autonomous entity in the wake of the Murree meeting could imply two possible aims. It would be a clear attempt to deny Pakistan leverage over Taleban leaders who, before, had lived on its soil, so it cannot drag them into further peace talks as the ‘official representatives’ of the movement. It would also allow the Qatar office to accelerate peace efforts, removing the need for the Leadership Council to supervise its activities. The Qatar office’s up-to-now lack of authority to decide anything has long been a major cause of the sluggish progress of both track II (unofficial, but between authorised individuals) talks and the prospect of track I talks (official, face-to-face) talks (examples here). The first step the political office has taken since its apparent promotion that indicates the increased independence in action was the opening of a separate Twitter account (@IEA_office) that went public on 26 July after the Murree meeting. The office is using this to comment on issues related to the office directly without having to have them published through the official website or through the social media accounts of the movement’s spokesmen. 

The limits of Pakistan’s pressure

Pakistan was able to pressurise the Taleban into considering a negotiated end to the war as a serious and urgent option. Kabul believes it is able to do much more. However, its pressure might have its limits and will likely not cross certain thresholds; even if Islamabad is sincere in facilitating a political settlement, it seems unlikely to do so at all costs. It is difficult to say if Islamabad would resort to using force against the Taleban. A violent confrontation could feed a new wave of militancy at home. It is possible to envisage a backlash by an anti-Pakistan alliance of antagonised Afghan Taleban and anti-Islamabad allies inside Pakistan, such as the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The uncertainty about how much Pakistan would win from cooperation in the Afghan peace at the cost of earning the militants’ wrath would loom large in that case.

Pakistan has used coercion, ‘diplomatic’ pressure and persuasion by its proxies within the movement to achieve the limited goal of the Murree meeting. These achievements might appear significant, but were always unlikely to last or contribute to the ultimate goal – a political settlement. An authentic change of mind in as fragile a process as peace-making has to come from within the Taleban movement itself, ideally through its own mechanisms of deliberations and policy-making.

If the Murree meeting had been a natural outgrowth of the Taleban’s internal policy-making, the movement would have most likely made sure all the various branches had been briefed. The Taleban would have taken measures before going into formal talks with the government. The most important would have been a thorough internal discussion with commanders on the ground and making sure the talks were not portrayed as dictated by an external force, especially Pakistan. For that to happen, it would have to conduct extensive consultations with the provincial commanders from across Afghanistan. AAN knows such consultations did precede the opening of the Qatar office, ie before the Taleban officially announced in January 2012 its plans to launch political efforts to find a negotiated end to the conflict. However, that procedure does not appear to have been followed prior to the Murree meeting. Indeed, after the reports of the meeting came out, there were signs of confusion, shock and even subordination, see, for example, reports here and here, assuming the sources quoted are credible.

Unresponsive Taleban make Kabul turn to Islamabad

The Afghan government was relying heavily on Pakistan for reviving the long-moribund peace process. Turning to Pakistan for facilitating peace talks probably emerged as the most viable option after Kabul felt it had reached a dead-end in its own attempts to reach out to the Taleban. The Afghan government had tried informal intermediaries, such as the uncle of President Ashraf Ghani, Qayum Kuchai, and formal, direct contacts. The head of the National Security Council, Hanif Atmar, visited Qatar in early March, possibly with the hope of meeting the Taleban political office members. If so, he failed (although an Indian newspaper reported that he met Akhtar Mansur in Qatar which is not easy to believe). President Ghani himself, according to the presidential office, was supposed to visit the Gulf state in late May, but the visit was cancelled. That trip also was reported to be linked to starting direct talks with the Taleban’s political office. It seems the Afghan government, after unsuccessfully trying to reach out to the Taleban directly, felt they had little choice but to seek Pakistan’s help. This was, ultimately, in Islamabad’s interest. It has long sought to undermine the Qatar-based political office.

Additionally, there is another reason that can explain why President Ghani’s government went to Pakistan for peace – and may have done so even if the Taleban had been more responsive. Ghani sees the current conflict mainly between states, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and thus sees the anti-state actors Kabul fights as mere proxies of Islamabad. He has made this point clear twice in recent statements. This week, on 3 August, he told journalists via a teleconference from Germany that “Our main goal is peace, peace between the sovereign states of Afghanistan and Pakistan, as Pakistan has been in a state of undeclared war with our country over the last fourteen years.” In March, he told an audience at the US Institute of Peace in Washington that “The problem, fundamentally, is not about peace with Taliban…The problem is fundamentally about peace between Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

The risk for Kabul of putting all eggs in Pakistan’s basket

The national unity government has been beleaguered and under pressure from all sides. The growing violence of the conflict, slow progress on forming a government, emerging political rivalries and a sinking economy – all make a quick peace deal attractive. However, seeking a quick fix may ruin the chance of getting a real peace process going. The most essential element of a peace process is building trust among the warring parties. An external force intimidating one party into coming to the table can be no substitute for genuine interest in seeking a negotiated end to the conflict. Proceeding from a view that the Taleban insurgency is wholly a Pakistan-created phenomenon and therefore Islamabad can just deliver the Taleban to Kabul may not be very helpful. Pursuing such an approach always risked the trust-building needed for launching a more independent channel of talks with the Taleban.

However, it seems it was not only the Afghan government that wanted a rushed peace deal enough to buy into the Pakistan channel. It appears the dominant thinking among US officials has been that Pakistan can bring the movement to talks by hook or by crook. According to a western official familiar with the key international actors involved in Afghan peace efforts, some of these actors prefer to have the most inclusive Taleban deal possible. If that is not achievable, it would be sufficient to include the Pakistan-based Leadership Council and Haqqani network and forget about Qatar or other Taleban figures living outside Pakistan. “The thinking is that the train, the Taleban core leadership, is based in Pakistan,” he said. “That will soon start moving. Those in Qatar have to either jump in and join the train or they will miss it.” Another western diplomat said the focus on sticking to the Pakistan channel was not aimed at excluding the Taleban’s political office, but rather “to create enough momentum, so that those in Qatar and elsewhere jump in.” So far, however, Pakistan has only been able to bring the appearance of representation of the Leadership Council and Haqqani ‘network’ to peace talks, but nothing more.

Talks causing breakdown and Taleban fragmentation?

A mishandled peace process might only be able to produce a few rounds of talks, but would most likely break down before achieving anything. The most important measure to see if any process is working is to test it on the ground. Any process that fails to get those battling in the insurgency on board is doomed to failure. The other consequence of enforced peace process would be to fracture the Taleban on the battlefield. While it is unlikely that any political settlement would include all those fighting in the name of Taleban, the majority would need to be on board for Afghanistan to have any real chance of peace. Any process that leaves out a significant minority would risk the birth of a more radical segment, eager to fight on and open to becoming a potential partner of militant international and regional groups.

All of this – talk of trust and Taleban fragmentation in the aftermath of the Murree talks – may now seem wholly to have been overtaken by events. Since the announcement of Mullah Omar’s death and the emergence of a power struggle within the Taleban, peace talks are off the agenda. It is difficult to see political negotiations being held, whether under Pakistani duress or freely, unless a clear leader of the Taleban emerges who can regain internal coherence. The government in Kabul also appears to be taking a hard line. Ghani when asked about the ‘peace process’, said Pakistan had an obligation to “cooperate in quelling the activities of the Taliban and other terrorist groups.” The impression given is that the administration hopes that news of Mullah Omar’s death (which was, in the end, leaked by it, although it had already been ‘pushing’ onto the news agenda) will fragment the insurgency, giving the Afghan national security forces the military advantage. This would be especially so if Pakistan played along by denying the Taleban resources and safe havens. Whether Pakistan would be able or willing to do that is, as we have said, already in doubt.

Moreover, the government seems to be focussing only on the possible positives in this messy situation. Certainly it can be said that, elsewhere in the world, it has been easier to get a general peace when the armed opposition is a coherent group which can deliver deals. Afghanistan’s history of competing armed groups powerful at the local level, able to fight and abuse the population, in the face of a weak state, looms large.

 

Annex:

Who were the Taleban representatives in Murree and how did they end up there?

The most prominent of those whom AAN knows attended the meeting are: 

Abdul Latif Mansur – he is a former Minister of Agriculture during the Taleban’s Emirate and nephew of Nasrullah Mansur, who led a mujahedin party against the Soviet occupation called Harakat-e Inqilab-e Islami (Islamic Revolution Movement). As an Andar Pashtun from Zurmat district in Paktia, he is one of the few non-southern Pashtuns in the Taleban leadership. Mansur is ‘chief of staff’ to the Taleban leadership (Akhtar Mansur?) and secretary of the Leadership Council. A distant relative described his job as overseeing the council’s all 12 commissions and organisational departments. Before the news about Mullah Omar’s death, some analysts with knowledge of the Taleban structure considered him as holding the number three position of the Taleban.

Militarily, Taleban groups loyal to Mansur operate in south-eastern Afghanistan under the Taleban military hierarchy, not as a parallel to the Haqqani ‘network’, but as uneasy comrades. Their areas of control have overlapped and there have been scuffles at times. Until 2009, Mansur was the head of the Peshawar Shura and of the Political Commission. In that year, he was arrested by the Pakistani authorities for talking about peace with the then head of UNAMA, Kai Eide. Him, six years later, being escorted to the first ‘official’ talks with the Afghan government is quite ironic, with Pakistan today favouring at least the appearance of wanting a political settlement in Afghanistan (albeit one that it controls). Mansur has been described by various family and Taleban sources as someone who has rejected ISI offers of partnership and resisted its efforts to court him. He was the only one, according to the Qatar office sources, mentioned to Pakistani officials by Akhtar Mansur as due to attend the Murree meeting.

Mullah Muhammad Abbas Akhund – he is a former health minister of the Taleban. Till recently, he headed their important Health Commission which has been negotiating with international health and humanitarian organisations for access to areas under Taleban control to enable immunisation campaigns, to ensure Taleban wounded are treated, and that the dead get transported to their homes. He has been one of the diplomatic faces of the Taleban to the international community, especially those working in the humanitarian field. He has turned also from being an antagonist of Pakistan and its intelligence services to one of its friends, reportedly developing cordial relations with the Pakistani government after being appointed by the Taleban as its main liaison with Islamabad around 2012. He is often confused with Mullah Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanakzai, a member of the Qatar-based political commission.

An Achakzai from southern Afghanistan, Abbas was rumoured twice to have become the head of the Political Commission in Qatar, replacing the veteran confidant of Mullah Omar, Tayyeb Agha. The reports turned out not to be true. However, Abbas has tried to unseat Agha from his post by accusing him of corruption among other things and reportedly was supported in this by Pakistan. The charges against Agha turned out to be unsubstantiated. Abbas’ taking over the Qatar office would have secured Pakistan a huge influence over the peace process. (For more detail of Abbas’ biography, see this earlier AAN piece – with one correction: Mullah Abbas does move between Qatar and Pakistan, and he was in Doha during the opening of the office in 2012. However, he is not a member of the Political Commission). Mullah Abbas’s attendance at the Murree meeting appears to have been because of his links to the Pakistani government; his participation was reportedly approved by Akhtar Mansur after the initial agreement as someone who had helped facilitate the meeting by being a credible go-between.

Haji Ibrahim Omari (often called ‘Haqqani’) – he is a younger brother of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the head of the so-called Haqqani network. He represented the family in the Murree talks. He fought the Soviets as a mujahedin commander in the late 1980s; during the Emirate era, in the 1990s, he was a mid-level military commander. After the battle of Shahikot (‘Operation Anaconda’) in 2002, according to different versions, Haji Ibrahim either ‘split’ from Jalaluddin and surrendered to the post-Taleban interim government of Hamed Karzai or he was sent by Jalaluddin to negotiate with Kabul and/or the US forces. (3)

In recent years, Ibrahim has been seen in Islamabad living as a free (business)man, not chased for any links to the Haqqani network. He has no formal portfolio in the Haqqani ‘network’ but continues to acts as an informal messenger for its leaders. According to an acquaintance, Ibrahim visited Afghanistan several times. Like most of the family, Haji Ibrahim has reportedly close relations to Pakistan’s intelligence services.

The Pakistani government could have brought core military members of the Haqqani network instead of Haji Ibrahim to the meeting with no great difficulty. However, it chose Ibrahim probably out of caution, not wanting to expose the ISI’s tight-knit relations with the Haqqanis. Moreover, several of the Haqqanis have US bounties of millions of dollars on their heads, so bringing one of the military leaders (such as Serajuddin, Yahya or Qari Zaker – he is different from Qayum Zaker, the influential South Afghanistan-based Taleban commander) would have been impossible given that Americans were at the same table.

 

(1) Akhtar Mansur has referred twice to peace talks in his first speech. Here is AAN’s translation of those parts:

That peace process, that negotiations process (incomplete sentence). There is a lot of enemy’s propaganda. They have tried a lot through money, through media, through false and corrupt ulama (ulama-ye su) and other means to weaken the course of jihad and destroy [our] unity. We should not believe in these things [rumours]. We should not believe in [rumours] of peace talks… This jihad will continue for advancing the word of Allah and until there is an Islamic system in the country.  …  If there is any crucial/fundamental process taking place, it should follow Sharia, and all actions will be taken under Sharia. Whether that is a jihad by sword, or if it [aim of the jihad] could be achieved through talks or through dawah (invitation), all our actions will be in the light of Sharia.

(2) Eight people participated in the Murree meeting from the Afghan government side, including members of both camps of the national unity government:

  • Haji Azizullah Din Muhammad, senior member of High Peace Council (close to President Ghani)
  • Hekmat Khalil Karzai, Deputy Foreign Minister (also close to Ghani)
  • Engineer Muhammad Asim, Governor of Parwan (close to CEO Abdullah)
  • Muhmmad Nateqi, advisor to First Deputy CEO, Muhammed Muhaqeq
  • Assadullah Sadati, MP from Daikundi and close to former Second Vice President Muhammad Karim Khalili
  • Farhadullah Farhad, High Peace Council
  • Faizullah Zaki, Chief of Staff of Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum.

Pakistani, American and Chinese representatives were present as observers. While the Pakistani delegation, according to a person briefed by Din Muhammad, included only ISI generals, the Chinese and US sent diplomats (not clear at what level). The United Nation Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) was aware of the meeting some days before it took place, but, AAN understands, was not invited on Pakistan’s insistence.

The Taleban and Afghan government representatives were facing each other across the table. On another side were Pakistanis and on the fourth side sat US and Chinese officials, according to the source.

(3) See for example: Anand Gopal, “How the US created, and lost, Afghan war”, Asia Times online, 30 April 2014; Jeffrey Dressler, The Irreconcilables: The Haqqani Network, Institute for the Study of War, 20 June 2010; Vahid Brown and Don Rassler: Fountainhead of Jihad, Oxford University Press: 2013, p 123.

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Thematic Category: War & Peace