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Interlocutors meet Abbas Ansari

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JammuKashmir watch

Srinagar, New Delhi’s interlocutors on Kashmir disclosed that in their first ‘formal’ meeting with separatist leadership, senior Hurriyat (M) leader and chairman of Itihad-ul-Muslimeen, Maulana Abbas Ansari on Wednesday showed the willingness to engage with Government of India if New Delhi took steps for creating a “conducive atmosphere”.

“This morning the interlocutors met Maulana Abbas Ansari , the chairman of Itihadul Muslimeen, at his residence to discuss ways and means to carry forward the dialogue process which will lead to a peaceful settlement of Jammu and Kashmir issue. The discussion lasting little over an hour was conducted in a cordial and constructive spirit. Maualana Ansari informed us that he favoured talks with the GOI to arrive at such a settlement. It had to be held at an appropriate level with the representatives of separatist groups and in the presence of interlocutors,” veteran journalist, Dileep Padgaonkar, flanked by the other two interlocutors- told reporters during a press conference here.

He said the meeting was arranged by an “intermediary”, terming it as a success for “the dialogue process, for all those in state and beyond who want peaceful settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir issue.”

“This is our first formal interaction with a top separatist leader, and Maulana Abbas has shown commitment to peace in the past,” he said.

According to Padgaonkar, Maualana Ansari stressed that perceptible changes on the ground were required to inculcate trust in people of Jammu and Kashmir. “Maulana Abbas said that the initial talks should focus on the four point agenda of Hurriyat(M) and on steps for conducive atmospheres,” Padgaonkar said .

“Abbas Ansari said that the New Delhi should allow Hurriyat(M) leaders to visit Pakistan to persuade the leaders there as well as Pakistan Administered Kashmir to get all the stake holders agree on a settlement that would satisfy all,” he added.

Padgaonkar said that Ansari and the interlocutors agreed to meet again to ensure “that dialogue process would be sustained.”

“This alone would guarantee that incremental progress is made to reach a political settlement in the state within a specified time frame. Maulana Abbas reiterated that people of Jammu and Kashmir were the real stake holders,” he said.

In response to a query, Padgaonkar said the interlocutors had no “ego problem in meeting separatists, and the moment they get “any sort of signal we would be willing to meet them.”
Commenting on the two-day round table conference, Padgaonkar said a wide range of opinions came up and the focus of the meet was on getting insight about a possible political solution of Jammu and Kashmir

“Close to 50 academics, media commentators, civil society activists, and representatives of political parties from all the regions of Jammu and Kashmir have reached a broad consensus on the key principles and ideas that should form the basis of a political settlement of the state. Participants at the two day round table conference strongly emphasized their commitment to democracy, pluralism and rule of law and by that same token they rejected the use of violence, religious extremism, regional chauvinism to achieve political ends,” he said.

“They were of the view that the whole focus of political settlement should be restoration of political rights of the people. And for the primary stake holders , their physical, psychological, economic , political, cultural insecurities have to be addressed to enable them to lead a peaceful life with honour and dignity,” Padgaonkar said.

“To attain this objective, the participants stressed that it would be of utmost importance to maintain the unity and territorial integrity of the state and to uphold its special status in the Indian union in letter and spirit. Attempts to bifurcate and trifurcate the state would create more problems, division among communal lines pressure on minorities,” he said.

He said the participants were for the State to be vested with powers in lieu of Article 370, roads between two parts without bureaucratic hassles, compensation for water resources, improving governance.

On a query about their statement on security forces having a stake in the state, Padgoankar said, “Security forces do have a stake in the state in the sense that they are deployed in Kashmir to take care of India’s internal and external security interest.”

He said the interlocutors had only discussed educational matters with slain Jamiat chief Moulana Showkat Ahmad Shah.

Talk to the Haqqanis, before it’s too late

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Last month Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief Northern Ireland negotiator, argued that “no group should be beyond talking to.” In the context of the current crisis and a shift towards seeking a peace deal in Afghanistan, this is particularly salient. President Hamid Karzai has recently announced the creation of a commission to lead talks with the Taliban. There is also emerging consensus in Washington that stability in Afghanistan can only be achieved by reaching some sort of a political settlement with the Taliban. But not talking to particular insurgent groups will not be a good idea, and a reliance on a policy of “decapitating” them is even worse.

One group that should not “be beyond talking to” is the Haqqani network, named for its leader Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, and now considered one of the most feared insurgent groups in Afghanistan. The network is responsible for attacks against the Afghan government, the U.S. military, and the Indian Embassy in Kabul. Perhaps because of this central role in the Afghan insurgency, in July, Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Richard Holbrooke asserted that the Haqqanis are the Taliban network with the closest ties to al Qaeda and that dealing with them is ‘the most pressing task’ in combating the insurgency. Despite their alleged links to international terrorists, even Secretary Clinton has not ruled out supporting dialogue with them (with caveats). These comments suggest the door on the U.S. side may soon be slightly ajar. However, having spent the past six years talking with members of the network, including some of its senior members, it would appear that the Haqqani’s door is currently open for talks but may soon be firmly shut. The Haqqani network is in the midst of a generational power shift from father to son, which if completed will all but rule out any future talk of peace.

In June 2007, well before the Haqqani terrorist network had found its way into headlines in the western media, chatter spread through the mountainous tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan that the aging and ill Jalaluddin — insurgent leader, client of the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), facilitator of Osama bin Laden’s 2001 escape into Pakistan — had passed away, reportedly due to hepatitis. The intelligence community picked up on this rumor but quickly disproved it. At the time of this report I was living in the tribal areas of southeast Afghanistan and wrote a report titled “Jalaluddin Haqqani: Dead, Alive, Does it Matter?” In short the answer is yes and no. Yes, because had he died at the time, it would have left the network more vulnerable than at anytime since its emergence in late 2004. And no, because today the Haqqanis have nearly completed what could be best described as ‘succession planning’ resulting in a powerful network that many believe jeopardizes Afghanistan’s stability

It is well known that for almost a decade he has suffered from health problems and requires regular medical attention rendering him relatively inactive in the day-to-day workings of the insurgency. Furthermore, as a senior insurgent commander (and former Taliban Minister), Maulavi Haqqani’s profile as a “most wanted” does not permit travel to the Afghan battle space. Consequently, his 36-year-old son Sirajuddin (aka “Khalifa”) has increasingly taken over, with gusto, operational command of his father’s network.

However, these limitations speak nothing of the influence Maulavi Haqqani continues to enjoy as a tribal leader, religious scholar, ISI associate and close ally of Gulf Arab financiers. Indeed, the success of the Haqqani network rests with these social/religious/political connections that Maulavi Haqqani has carefully nurtured over the past 30-plus years; indeed, it was these very factors that also made him so popular with the CIA during the anti-Soviet jihad). It can be assumed that these networks, particularly with Arab financiers and the ISI, have been “inherited” by Sirajuddin. However, the same cannot be said about Maulavi Haqqani’s tribal, religious and mujahideen credentials. Sirajuddin is in his early 30’s, grew up in Miram Shah, Pakistan and, prior to 2001, only occasionally traveled to his native village of Garde Serai, nestled in the rugged mountains of Paktia province. In Miram Shah he was involved in Islamic Studies but, unlike his father, did not graduate from a prestigious madrassah and is too young to have been a well-known fighter during the anti-Soviet jihad.

Hence, the very elements that have contributed to the success of Maulavi Haqqani’s activities in eastern Afghanistan (and that could be used to assist in a peace process) — his personal influence as a tribal leader, mujahideen commander and religious elder — will be lost after he dies or passes control to Siraj.

Moreover, the respect of Maulavi Haqqani within Afghanistan as a mujahideen leader is matched by the respect he derives from being a prominent tribal and religious elder. As a result, it has been difficult for the various Zadran sub tribes of Paktia, Paktika and Khost to actively oppose his network’s activities in their respective tribal regions.

Indeed, today the Haqqani network is spreading its influence geographically into areas previously dominated by other insurgent groups (such as the Mansoor network in Zurmat district of Paktia). It has also, for the first time since the beginning of the Haqqani-led insurgency in late 2004-early 2005, recently embarked upon the systematic targeting and killing of moderate tribal leaders from within the Zadran tribe. This all looks like succession planning. Tactically, Sirajuddin must know that when his father dies (be it of natural causes or otherwise), the tribes would certainly be better positioned to oppose him, should they choose (and be empowered) to do so.

Added to this equation is the knowledge that U.S. pressure on Islamabad to tackle the Haqqani network could see their safe havens in North Waziristan come under increased pressure in the future. Maulavi Haqqani had the necessary contacts and influence to navigate his way through policy shifts in Islamabad. A question mark remains over whether Siraj, in the absence of his father, would be as adept at maneuvering between possible future policy shifts.

The time is ripe, therefore, for a dialogue to take place, one that will be easier to negotiate while the older generation of fighters that knows the benefits of peace is still alive. From my discussions with representatives of Maulavi Haqqani, he still claims to be fighting in Afghanistan for ‘peace.’ Sirajuddin, on the other hand, does not know the meaning of the word. He has been brought up in war, has never lived as a citizen of a functioning nation state, has little to no experience of government, is not a tribal elder and is not even a credible religious leader. In this regard he is motivated more by a radical Islamist ideology than his father, and less obviously constrained by a desire to maintain good relations with the local tribal leaders.

For example, on a visit to Afghanistan this year I met with a prominent Zadran tribesman who had returned from North Waziristan the previous week and had spent the night with Siraj. He had taken a message to the commander that the latter’s insurgent activities in the Zadran tribal area were having negative consequences for his fellow tribesman. Upon relaying this message, the elder was informed by Siraj that he was welcome to stay the night and receive his hospitality but that if he ever returned again with such a message he would not leave with his head on his shoulders. Such a blunt message to a respected Zadran tribal elder could not and would not have come from his father.

Despite appearances, my years of working closely with various tribal and religious leaders of the Zadran tribe has convinced me that there is a pro-peace middle majority that has hitherto been marginalized by the political process, the military intervention in the region and the insurgency. Sadly, some of the best of these leaders have already been targeted by the insurgents or have wrongfully been detained by the International Military Forces. Unless greater security and political space is afforded to the current Zadran tribal and religious leadership in Paktia, Paktika and Khost, the outcome of the Haqqani network’s succession planning will go ahead unchallenged.

In order to prevent this scenario from transpiring the United States must make a clear distinction between the current Haqqani network and al Qaeda. The Haqqani network is an Afghan network focused on Afghanistan. There is no evidence that the objective of the Haqqani network is to support an international jihadist agenda. To this end, Washington and Kabul should embark upon a policy of engagement (as part of a broader political outreach effort to all various elements of the Taliban) to separate the two. Locally, U.S. forces must pay greater attention to the local tribal dynamics as part of its counterinsurgency approach. In the southeast, this should include support to the tribal police (or arbakai) and ensuring that the pro-peace tribal majority is not subjected to intimidation, detention (or worse) by the international military presence.

However, should we fail to capitalize on this opportunity for dialogue, a more radical network, combined with the absence of the tribal and religious constraints that Maulavi Haqqani must regularly negotiate, will mark the beginning of a new, more violent generation of the insurgency in eastern Afghanistan. And this new insurgency will leave no prospects for dialogue or peace.