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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

As Taliban factions bicker, ISI chief in Kabul to find berths for Haqqanis

The Pakistani spy chief landed in the city amid hectic negotiations within the Taliban on the governance structure.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi |
Updated: September 5, 2021 7:34:24 am
Lt Gen Faiz HameedISI chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed (file photo)

Demonstrating its clout over the Taliban leadership and anxious to find berths in the new Kabul regime for people it had nurtured over the years, Pakistan sent ISI chief Lt General Faiz Hameed to Kabul Saturday.

The Pakistani spy chief landed in the city amid hectic negotiations within the Taliban on the governance structure. The announcement of the governing council, expected Saturday, has been delayed because of back-channel negotiations.

The sense in New Delhi is that factions and groups within the Taliban are jockeying for powerful positions in the new government in Kabul.

And the ISI chief, according to sources in Delhi, has gone to Afghanistan to smoothen the process of government formation among various groups.

Photographs of Lt General Hameed having tea with Pakistan’s ambassador Mansoor Ahmad Khan at the Serena hotel in Kabul did the rounds of social media.

(A PTI report from Islamabad stated that Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa told visiting British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab that Islamabad will “assist” the Taliban to form an inclusive administration. It said the Pakistan Observer reported that Gen Bajwa said Pakistan will “continue to fight for peace and stability in Afghanistan, as well as assist the formation of an inclusive administration”.)

What is almost certain is that Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada will be the country’s supreme leader and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will be the head of the government.

While the ISI is keen to put the Haqqani Network in influential positions — from council members to governors in major provinces — the Doha group under Baradar, looking for international acceptability, is keen to have more of its people.

The ISI chief’s presence in Kabul displayed Rawalpindi’s “active role” in the new Taliban government formation, sources said, adding that if the Pakistanis have their way, the Haqqani Network will be granted major positions of influence.

In the past, the Haqqani Network has been responsible for attacks against the Indian Embassy in Kabul, and Indians in particular.

Sources said if Kabul is dominated by Haqqani’s men, it will deter India’s presence in the country. Also, if governors of major provinces — with cities like Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat — are people from the Haqqani Network, it will be a difficult road ahead for India.

While the global community’s gaze is on the Haqqani Network and its influence, Qatar and the US have been looking especially at the Baradar-led Taliban group’s role.

The other debate is about including former President Hamid Karzai and former peace negotiator Abdullah Abdullah in the new governance structure.

Delhi is also watching how the non-Pashtuns are accommodated in governance structures, especially ethnic groups such as the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras. The global community is also going to look for the presence of women in governance structures.

All these will be key markers for an “inclusive” and “representative” governance structure before the world engages with the Taliban council, which will be styled on the lines of the Iranian governance system.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he hopes the Taliban will behave in a “civilised” manner in Afghanistan, so that the global community can maintain diplomatic ties with Kabul.

“Russia is not interested in the disintegration of Afghanistan. If this happens, then there will be no one to talk to,” Putin said at the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok.

“The sooner the Taliban will enter the family of civilised people, so to speak, the easier it will be to contact, communicate, and somehow influence and ask questions,” he said.

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