New reports from Afghanistan give false hopes for peace

As US, European, and Afghan officials cling to the idea that the Taliban will negotiate a peace settlement to end the war in Afghanistan, a recent string of news articles would lead you to believe that the Taliban is actually willing to reach a compromise. However, these stories are highly misleading and give false hope that an end to this 17-year conflict is in sight.

The Taliban’s leadership isn’t at all interested in making peace with – let alone sharing power with – an Afghan government that it considers to be an un-Islamic stooge of Western powers. The Taliban has repeatedly ignored and rebuffed the Afghan government’s peace offers, as it considers the Afghan government a pawn of the West. The Taliban has stated time and time again that it is its religious obligation to wage jihad, or holy war, in order to eject the occupying forces and re-establish the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the name of the Taliban’s government.

When the Taliban has previously discussed negotiations, it always has two preconditions to talks: the withdrawal of foreign forces and the return of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

To put it more simply, the Taliban’s negotiating position is: first the West and the Afghan government surrender, then we’ll talk.

Despite these facts, Western and Afghan officials believe that the Taliban can either be convinced or coerced, via force, to the negotiating table. That notion discards 17 years of history, which has shown that the Taliban is a patient and committed enemy that has survived several setbacks, including the Obama administration surge that drove the group from key areas in the south.

Western and Afghan officials are often duped by press reporting, which would lead you to believe the Taliban is exhausted from fighting or just needs a little more convincing from external actors, such as Pakistani clerics – who are really just agents of the Taliban.

Take this article, from Voice of America News, which was published on May 8. The original version hailed a letter, purported to have been written by Mawlawi Abdul Hokom, the Taliban’s top Sharia official, that claimed the Taliban want to make peace with the Afghan government. The letter was released by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense. Hokom says that “the [Taliban]” leadership should consider the public peace demand provide a convincing response to the Afghan people after consulting with all the leaders.” Note that Hokom doesn’t demand peace, he merely states it should be considered.

VOA then goes on to note that Hokom “once again called the Afghan government a ‘puppet’ and its peace offer ‘unreal.’ He also called the U.S.-led International forces ‘occupiers.'” This is a clear indication that Hokom is not serious about the peace process, and is actually in line with the Taliban’s views on the occupation and legitimacy of the Afghan government.

Regardless, VOA later updated the article to note that Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the document provided by the Ministry of Defense “is a fake letter created by the enemy’s intelligence. They had also posted copies of this fake document on social media few months ago and this letter has nothing to do with the Islamic Emirate.”

Another report, which stemmed from a meeting of religious scholars from Afghanistan and Pakistan in Indonesia, would have given you the impression that Pakistani jihadists were pressuring the Afghan Taliban to halt its attacks and conduct peace talks. On May 11, Pajwhok Afghan News reported that top cleric Maulana Anwar ul Haq said just that:

Top cleric at Jamia Haqqania religious school of Pakistan, Mualana Anwarul Haq, has called upon the Taliban and the Afghan government to stop fighting and initiate talks for ending the conflict in Afghanistan.

Speaking at the Ulema conference in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia on peace in Afghanistan, Haq said Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand Line were being killed in the war. He called the war in Afghanistan as anti-Pashtun, saying the genocide had been ongoing in Pakistan’s neighbor over the past 30 years.

Scholars from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia took part in the daylong event organized by the scholars of Indonesia.

The chief cleric at the Jamia Haqqania in Akora Khattak area of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhunkhwa province said his country was ready to support the Afghan peace process.

He urged the Kabul government and the Afghan Taliban to enter a ceasefire and arrive at the negotiating table. “We the ulema are ready to mediate between the Taliban and the Afghan government,” he said.

Now, this would be interesting news, if true. Maulana Anwar ul Haq is the brother of Maulana Sami ul Haq, the director of the radical Darul Uloom Jamia Haqqania madrassa. This madrassa, which is known as the University of Jihad, feeds thousands of new recruits to the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban on a regular basis. Sami is one of several Pakistanis who have been given the title of “father of the Taliban” for his support for the Afghan jihad.

Soon after the Pajhwok report emerged, the spokesman for Darul Uloom Jamia Haqqania “rejected the reports suggesting that the deputy chief of the religious seminary Maulana Anwarul Haq has called on Taliban group to join intra-Afghan peace process,” Khaama Press reported. “Maulana Anwaru Haq has not made such a call as he rejected the reports attributed to him as false.”

And just to put a fine point on it, Anwar ul Haq made it clear that not only did he and others prevent representatives at the Indonesia conference from holding the Taliban accountable for its role in the Afghan war, he was there actually “representing” the Taliban. From TOLONews:

“In the entire meeting, there was no discussion on ceasefire or taking any decision. We did not let them to mention Taliban. The people (participants of the meeting) had added Taliban’s name in the declaration, but we removed it. Don’t think about it. We were representing you. Everything went well.”

Finally, this May 19 article from Al Jazeera News initially made the claim that the Taliban said it would conduct an unconditional ceasefire and halt attacks on all Afghan security personnel. After mentioning this on Twitter, noting that this was a complete misrepresentation of the Taliban statement – which instead offered amnesty for Afghan security personnel who quit fighting – the article was updated and the following correction was issued:

Correction: 19/05/2018: An earlier version of this article stated that the Taliban had offered a general amnesty to police and army in Afghanistan. This was incorrect. The amnesty was only offered to those who would leave what it called “enemy ranks”, as is now reflected below.

A cursory reading of the Taliban’s statement showed that the Taliban only offered amnesty to those who would lay down their arms. Yet Al Jazeera News published the original version, giving false hope to those who seek the illusion of peace with an enemy who does not want it.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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