Hopes For Cease-fire After The Doha Intra-Afghan Dialogue

Hopes For Cease-fire After The Doha Intra-Afghan Dialogue

Afghan representatives at Doha peace conference. July 8, 2019

Originally published in the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

An unprecedented meeting between the Taliban, Afghan officials, and delegates from various political parties and civil society last week has raised hopes for peace, but it must now be followed up by a cease-fire to pave the way to lasting peace in the country.

In the Qatari capital, Doha, a meeting co-hosted by German and Qatari officials brought together diverse factions interested in achieving lasting Afghan peace. Sixteen Taliban and 60 Afghan representatives comprising delegates from political parties, government officials, and civil society organizations engaged in discussions that led to a potentially positive arrangement.

The Doha peace talks were unlike many other conferences. The Taliban agreed to reduce their reliance on violent attacks by avoiding various public spaces. Many Afghans vulnerable to terrorism and living under severe violence have newfound hope.

It was a positive milestone for Afghans. The Taliban leadership dined with female representatives, including one of their leading critics, Fawzia Kofi, a former MP of the Wolesi Jirga or lower house of the Afghan Parliament. The Taliban indicated a shift in their perspective toward women by saying they would protect their rights within an Islamic framework.

Women, in particular, have been the victims of ignorance and extremism throughout the dark chapters of Afghan history. The international community’s contribution to building a democratic framework in Afghanistan resulted in the simple ability for girls to go to school.

This is a significant step in bringing peace and prosperity to the country. Women now work freely in the government and private sector. They represent an important portion of society and have been a symbol of change.

Given the Taliban’s harsh policy toward women and youth, this represents huge progress. Afghan journalist Harun Najafizada reminisced about his childhood when he and his brother Lotfullah Najifizada hid behind their mother. But now Lotfullah openly argued with Taliban representatives in Doha.

The presence and participation of youth at the Doha conference offered another noteworthy step. It was unique to see those under the age of 30 who were raised under the specter of war and feared violence by the Taliban, now sitting across from them. They ate, argued, exchanged ideas, and consequently asked for the violence to end.

Among the participants, Khalid Noor — a recent graduate of George Mason University and alum of Royal Military Academy Sandhurst — hopes for a peaceful Afghan future. He expressed satisfaction with the discussions and said he considers the Doha conference an excellent example of a way that both Taliban and Afghan representatives could “clearly raise their thoughts patiently.”

His father, Atta Mohammad Noor, had fought the Taliban as a commander of Jamiat-e Islami in the 1990s and as the longtime former governor of northern Balkh Province. He sees the Doha talks as a breakthrough. “This was unlike many other peace talks,” he said. The Doha framework was conducive to frank considerations that “both sides felt comfortable to share and they listened to each other.”

From Left, Khalid Noor and Lotfullah Najafzad at Doha peace conference.

“I really think that this was a good meeting as the two sides exchanged ideas,” he said, adding that it is “imperative to hold such talks in the future.”

A remarkable conclusion came after strong criticism and arguments. Both sides agreed to reduce violence by withholding attacks on religious centers, schools, hospitals, educational centers, bazaars, water dams, and workplaces. But the understanding now needs to translate into a tangible cease-fire across Afghanistan.

Continued peace talks and the recent nonbinding agreement with the Taliban are indicative of a few points. First, the Taliban are willing to accept some sort of cease-fire because they claim to feel remorse for killing civilians who are fellow Afghans. On the other hand, they simply may not have an alternative strategy.

Secondly, conferences in Doha, Moscow, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan denote the group’s desire to build a new reputation. Let’s not forget that the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of the 1990s was toppled by the U.S. government for harboring Al-Qaeda terrorists.

Read the full article on the website of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Ahmad Mohibi, a writer and activist is the founder of Rise to Peace. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadsmohibi. 

Rise to Peace: Afghanistan, Pakistan Conference

Winning Peace in Afghanistan Requires Pakistan

Afghan politicians, from left to right, second deputy chief executive Mohammad Mohaqeq, Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, former Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, Haneef Atmar, Mohammad Karim Khalili the opening session of an Afghan Peace Conference, Bhurban, Pakistan, June 22, 2019. (Rise to Peace).

On June 22nd, the Center for Peace Research (LCPR) and the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI) in Pakistan hosted the Afghan Peace Conference. This effort sought ways to achieve meaningful Afghan dialogue. Senior Afghan leaders and politicians — Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, former Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, second deputy chief executive Mohammad Mohaqeq, and presidential candidate Abdul Latif Pedram — attended this conference.

The summit was opened by the Foreign Minister of Pakistan Shah Mahmood Qureshi. “Pakistani prime minister told us that we should not doubt their intention and determination. He said that Pakistan will hold talks with the Taliban leadership to engage in direct talks with the Afghan government,” said Abdullah Qarloq, a participant of the meeting and an Afghan politician to TOLOnews.

Without a doubt, Pakistan is the foremost player in the Afghan situation. Holding such summits helps the Afghan peace talks process, but it also strengthens the Afghan-Pakistan bond.

Both nations are primarily Muslim dominated societies with shared values — so there is no need to spark hostility, as has been a theory for the past decades, as subsequently resulted in violence on both sides. Every Afghan simply blames Pakistan for the ongoing war in Afghanistan due to the rise of terror movements in the 1970s, the proxy war pitting East against West, the creation of the Taliban and the post-9/11 conflict.

Pakistan has been accused of supporting terrorists by the United States, the Afghan government and the international community. These suppositions are based on factual evidence and findings.

Pakistan’s connection to terrorism stirs fear in Afghans. Former Afghan National Directorate of Security and current presidential candidate in the upcoming Afghan elections Rahmatullah Nabil said, “Pakistan has been using terrorism as a tool and tactic.” In September 2018, the Trump administration cancelled $300 million worth of aid to Pakistan over its terror record. Further, Islamabad was accused of “not doing enough to root out militants from its border region with Afghanistan.”

Former US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has also accused Pakistan of playing a “double game” on combating terrorism. She accuses Pakistan of “harboring terrorists that attack American troops in Afghanistan.”

Like the United States, the Afghan government calls Pakistan’s game “toxic” and repeatedly asks for a clear stance on terrorism.  After the Ghazni offensive — where 400 terrorists, as well as 70 Pakistani nationals, were killed — the Afghan General Chief of Staff Mohammad Sharif Yaftali stated, “Pakistan is the springboard of international terrorism. All terrorists first land in Pakistan, where they get armed, equipped and then sent to Afghanistan to fight.”

Anytime there is a terrorist attack, Afghans blame Pakistan. These accusations are simply rejected. “Blame games” and “double standards” exist between the Afghan and Pakistani governments. While Afghans hold Pakistan responsible for terrorist attacks and their ongoing support of terrorism, Pakistan accuses Afghans of volatility and blames the US for the creation of this “mess.”

Neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan can breathe peace if they continue with this rhetoric. Confidence must be first built between Afghans and Pakistanis because peace is mutually constructive. A peaceful Afghanistan steadies the region.

Any attempts to bring the Taliban and Afghan political leaders to a negotiation table are laudable no matter who brokers a deal. The Pakistan factor is critical due to the historical background of the Taliban and its movement for the following reasons:

  • Taliban was founded in Pakistan and later, in 1996, was recognized as a legitimate government to operate in Afghanistan. They remain supported by the Pakistani intelligence agency and their religious elites.
  • Pakistan harbors the Taliban leadership and its easier for Pakistan to pressure them if they want.
  • Taliban are equipped, trained and deployed to Afghanistan from Pakistan. If Pakistan offers to help, a full stop is required.
  • Pakistan is the Taliban’s safe haven. Anytime the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) defeat a group or insurgent groups are out of ammunition and financing, Pakistan provides the necessary support. In a recent operation, a wounded Taliban fighter was treated in Pakistani border clinics after their defeat.
  • Pakistan and India utilize Afghanistan as a battleground their foreign policy and interests. Per Afghan intelligence, Pakistan and India support insurgency grounds that operate in Afghanistan.
  • Pakistan served as the center for Afghan political leaders to regroup, obtain foreign aid (weapons and money) to fight against the Soviet Union from the 1970s until the late 1989s. Pakistan knows the politics of war and the Afghan conflict more than any country in the world. If they truly wanted, Pakistan could bring significant results to the peace talks.
  • The leader of Hizb-e-Islami, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was sheltered and protected in Pakistan since the 1990s until he was deleted from the CIA’s blacklist to enter to Afghanistan.

There are numerous other elements that demonstrate the critical the role of Pakistan in the peace process but those listed are especially important. Pakistan’s offer of support is potentially positive but going forward, the Pakistani government must take a strong stance on terrorism. Supporting terror is simply non-Islamic, toxic for both nations and a peaceful Afghanistan is beneficial to Pakistan.

Conversely, Afghanistan must work to bridge the gap and end the hostility. The requirement of two sides working in unison against terrorism and toward mutually held national interests remains the bottom line.

Ahmad Mohibi is Founder and Director of Counter-terrorism at Rise to Peace, a non-profit organization, and a national security expert. He is a published author, journalist and news commentator on TOLONews, and an alumnus of George Washington University and George Mason University. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadsmohibi

Pakistan: A Crossroads for US Defense Strategy

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House Photo: PETER SOUZA

May 1, 2011: United States Navy SEAL Team 6 boarded two helicopters and crossed the Afghan border. They flew low, evading radar coverage on their way into Abbottabad, Pakistan (a military town home to the Pakistani military academy) and the location where U.S. intelligence believed they would find America’s most wanted criminal, the man responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.

The excitement of the day eight years ago masked the fact that modern US-Pakistani relations were laid bare. A clearer picture emerged as the public discovered that the mission to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden was conducted without the knowledge or involvement of the Pakistani government and that this lack of transparency was not an anomaly in the era of the War on Terror.

During the Obama presidency, U.S. policy was designed to elicit Pakistani support in order to facilitate a renewed focus on winning the war in Afghanistan, as many Taliban elders sought refuge in the tribal regions of Pakistani northern Waziristan.

This entailed limited appeasement of the Pakistanis, in order to try to develop the partnership through billions of dollars in aid and support. Former Obama administration national-security council advisor Joshua White, now at The Brookings Institution, explained that at that time “the duplicity of Pakistan’s intelligence services was baked into the stock price of U.S.-Pakistan relations.”

Despite this understanding, as time went on inaction and opposition to US policy in Afghanistan would strain the relationship. It seemed the Obama Pakistan policy was doomed by a fundamental reality of US relations in the region: Security issues have always been the most pressing impetus for diplomatic relations, and they will always find a way to dominate the agenda.

The problem then and remains today that tensions will inevitably arise from a mismatch in security interests between the two countries. Several more diplomatic incidents involving CIA assassins and an unintentional attack on Pakistani forces by a NATO warplane would later underscore the reality of relations with Islamabad for Obama, who would later acknowledge that he questioned why the alliance existed at all.

The Trump administration benefits strongly from the hindsight of the Obama years. For them, the problem of demanding greater Pakistani action is much more one of stop-losses. Despite bilateral failings and differing priorities, the Pakistanis outstrip most other allied nations in counterterror action against organizations like Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani Network and other mutual nuisances, but less so when it comes to unilateral US concerns like the Afghan Taliban.

A senior US intelligence official interviewed by The New Yorker last year described the “maddening truth” that despite the willingness to give funding and sanctuary to Taliban leaders, “Nobody had taken more bad guys off the battlefield than the Pakistanis.” Islamabad’s willingness to prioritize their own interests has long been tolerated, but that may be coming to an end as the new administration’s foreign policy is seen as less flexible.

President Trump appears to be comfortable taking a hardline position with Pakistan, raising the bar for access to US aid in the hopes of greater support, while seemingly willing to accept diminished returns if they are not willing to step up counterterror efforts. Last year he spoke out on Twitter condemning Islamabad’s lack of commitment as he announced a wave of significant cuts to economic and military aid in an attempt to underscore the seriousness of his administration’s new policy.

For the administration, a diminished – but not severed – the alliance has some advantages.

The US occupies a precarious position, balancing concern for regional partners like India and the desire to continue efforts to develop an exit strategy for Afghanistan, which are heavily predicated on Pakistani support to the Taliban.

Reducing military aid while enjoying the benefits of the somewhat diminished counterterror efforts Pakistan carries out on its own would allow the U.S. to reassure commitments to India but would cost the U.S. significantly in negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan. For now, Trump has not yet made clear which is the ultimate priority in the region.

Continued indecisiveness will threaten new bilateral economic agreements with India.

Given the mandate Indian PM Narendra Modi holds from his recent victory, he is likely to extend his hardline anti-Pakistan rhetoric, particularly after the widely condemned Pakistani sponsored JeM attacks on a bus of Indian troops in April.

As India rachets up tensions, Pakistan stands squarely in the crosshairs of this emerging and potentially invaluable alliance for Washington. India’s position as a regional power makes it a priority, as their capability to check back against the rise of China can resolve a signature Trump policy goal. Sacrifices are going to have to be made. The result of such decisions may be grave for Pakistan.

As future US-Pakistani relations evolve, there must be a greater focus on bilateral accountability, commitment, and anti-corruption efforts.

Without them, future efforts to combat terrorism in the region will likely remain productive when there is an ongoing mutual interest, but continue to be hampered by distrust and lack of commitment when U.S. attention turns to groups with which Pakistan finds strategic convenience in turning a blind eye, particularly with the Taliban.

Likewise, if the rift between the nations were to exacerbate, the Pakistanis may find limited access to important trade and economic aid which has been essential to the local economy and may struggle with counterterror coup-proofing to resist regional insurgents bent on vying for control of the country.

A significant part of the decision to retain the support of Pakistan needs to be made with respect to the continuing goals and strategy in Afghanistan. Pakistan has never made secret its efforts to back regional extremists in the northern tribal areas of that country and has long given refuge to Taliban elders within its borders.

Obama set the course for a slow withdrawal from Afghanistan, along with the legitimization of Taliban rule in exchange for the closure of terror camps – the pre-9/11 US strategy.

If Trump wants to take the position that there cannot be legitimate Taliban rule in Afghanistan under his watch, then he will have to put increasing pressure on Islamabad to force greater counter-terror participation.

If the administration is content with the settlement being developed by the US special envoy for Afghanistan – a plan albeit widely unpopular with Congress – then it may be wise to dissolve much of the alliance in favor of broader support of India.

This reflects a much bigger crossroads in the future of US threat analysis: does the administration believe it necessary to remain engaged in widespread counterinsurgency, or is it time to cut losses in favor of a solution to emerging great power woes?

What 9/11 Means to Me

On September 11, 2001, the tragic news of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was transmitted through a radio that hung from a tree branch. This tree branch was in our backyard. We lived in the Keshm district of Badakhshan province in Afghanistan from 1996-2001. You didn’t know it yet, but we were lost. Between a fear that was consummate, and a fundamental human hope for survival. 2001 restored our hope for democracy, resistance, and freedom.

In the 1990s the Taliban provided sanctuary to al-Qaeda and the Haqqani Network. Afghanistan turned into a safe haven for terrorist groups who planned and executed deadly attacks in Kenya, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Manhattan. Osama bin Laden used Afghanistan as a tool for his political and religious objectives. Had the United States and the international community had the relationship, cooperation, and communication lines it now has with the Afghan government, 9/11 could have been foreseen more clearly, and maybe, prevented.

[pullquote]The Taliban governed Afghanistan for almost five years and acted as the entry to heaven for jihadis, and other extremist fighters.[/pullquote]

The Taliban governed Afghanistan for almost five years and acted as the entry to heaven for jihadis, and other extremist fighters. That typo is a little too perfect to delete. I mean, under the Taliban, Afghanistan acted as a safe-haven for jihadists, and other extremist militants. This included bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the latter being the founder of what would become ISIS. Interestingly, most of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. These are two of the only states to recognize the Taliban government in the 1990s.

By 2001, the Taliban occupied 90% of Afghanistan, with the exception of Panjshir, Sheberghan, and our enclave in Badakhshan. In these three provinces the Afghan mujahedin, also known as the Northern Alliance, successfully resisted the Taliban. On September 9th, 2001 al-Qaeda and the Taliban assassinated the Northern Alliance leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud. Two days later, they brought down The Twin Towers at New York’s World Trade Center. In December 2001 the Taliban was toppled by the United States and its Northern Alliance ally. Remnants of the Taliban scuttled to Pakistan. There, they regrouped and came back strong. 17 years later, the United States remains mired in the longest war in its brief history.

When the war began, many Afghans fled to Pakistan, Iran, and other neighboring countries. My parents chose to stay. They chose to fight extremism. I remember passing through the Hindu Kush Mountains, sleeping on the ground, looking at the stars, and praying for peace. This, while friends, neighbors, and more distant family sought refuge in places farther away. We lived 45 minutes from the Taliban and its trenches. I distinctly remember the sound of heavy-artillery as formal war broke out between Northern Alliance and Taliban fighters.

[pullquote]To the Taliban, we in the north were less than Muslims, less than human. The Taliban saw us as part of the resistance. But after 9/11, everything changed.[/pullquote]

In 2001, Keshm became the center of the mujahedin resistance. As kids, we stood on the streets while military tanks and artillery passed by. It was startling to watch the men, women, and children as young as 12, armed to the teeth. Our family, like many, feared for our lives. The Taliban and its killings were brutal, their ideology – extremist. To the Taliban, we in the north were less than Muslims, less than human. The Taliban saw us as part of the resistance. But after 9/11, everything changed.

At first, the change was not for the better. With Massoud‘s death and the successful attacks in the United States, we lost any remaining hope that we had. But it wasn’t long after when the US B2-s started bombing. Taliban trenches and supply routes were all hit. We all had hope for survival, and to be sure, for freedom, come back to life inside us. It was the first time we witnessed the Taliban being defeated. It was the first time we witnessed the Taliban being bombarded, eliminated. We breathed peace. Never before had we been able to openly celebrate the eradication of the Taliban.

The US war in Afghanistan turned a grim page in Afghan history to a new one rife with hopes for freedom and democracy. Despite that the war has worsened of late, these 17 years have given rise to unprecedented opportunities for Afghans – to learn, to improvise, to bring innovative ideas forward to their communities and the nation. Under the Taliban, we lived in fear, and with no sign of a meaningful or fulfilling future. But today, legitimate and numerous security challenges notwithstanding, there remains in Afghans a strong sense of hope for peace and self-autonomy.

[pullquote]9/11 reminds us that terrorist groups like al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban seek to divide us through hate, fear, and ignorance.[/pullquote]

9/11 reminds us that terrorist groups like al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban seek to divide us through hate, fear, and ignorance. They want a humanity controlled, a collection of strangers. We oppose this idea as a wanton affront to human dignity. We seek a community of connected human beings. We must stay strong, we must persevere, and we must work hard to counter terrorism on a global scale, to protect the lives of the innocent, and to thwart attacks on peace, and civil society.

On this anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I share my deepest condolences with the families and friends of its victims, in addition to innocent people who are affected every day by the ongoing tragedies that terrorism inflicts on them. We will continue to stand together and fight for humanity, for the world, and for generations to come.

Ahmad Mohibi is Founder and Director of Counter-terrorism at Rise to Peace, a non-profit organization, and a national security expert. He is a published author, journalist and news commentator on TOLONews, and an alumnus of George Washington University and George Mason University. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadsmohibi 

Analyzing Election Violence in South Asia

In this May 11, 2017 photo, supporters of Nepali Congress party march during an election campaign event in Bhaktapur, Nepal. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)


Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nepal all held national elections between late 2017 and mid-2018. All three experience significant election security concerns due to political violence that targets campaign events, infrastructure, and political leaders themselves. While this violence focused on election disruption, the scope, targets, and attack methods varied from country to country.

Leading up to the election, the three regions were targeted differently. In Pakistan, terroristic violence targeted campaign events and candidates. These politically influenced attacks included a suicide bombing on July 13th in Mastung resulting in 149 people dead including Balochistan Awami Party leader and political candidate Siraj Raisani.

The attack, later claimed by ISIS, was the third deadliest in Pakistan’s history. Raisani was not the only candidate killed. Other murdered candidates included Haroon Bilour and Ikramullah Gandapur. Candidates Arkham Durrani and Dawood Khan Achakzai survived pre-election attempts on their lives. All of the attacks were organized and executed by skilled, experienced strategists.

Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections have been delayed since 2016, with voting set to take place on October 20th, 2018. Attacks in Afghanistan targeted electoral institutions, including the bombing of voter registration centers and the assassination of election officials. An attack claimed by ISKP killed 57 outside a Kabul voter registration center.

Like the Pakistan attacks, these, perpetrated by the Taliban and a few by ISIS, were well orchestrated and highly effective. Between April 1st and June 13th, more than 100 Afghans were killed in election violence. Afghanistan was also plagued by non-electoral violence, perhaps prompted by election-related instability, during this period.

This includes a June 20th attack wherein Taliban militants attacked a military base and killed 30 Afghan soldiers, followed by an attack on July 3rd wherein a car bomb, targeting a foreign military convoy, detonated. Another example is a July 7th attack which saw a police convoy ambushed by Taliban fighters in the Ghazni province, leaving four officers dead and six wounded.

For planned attacks such as these that are heavily reliant on timing, terrorist organizations require intelligence, location analysis for the strategic placement of IEDs, and experienced members to successfully execute the attacks.

Nepal held legislative elections in stages between May and December 2017, and presidential elections in March 2018. These elections transpired despite contention surrounding federalism and provincial-level voting within the rewrite of the Nepalese constitution.

While the campaign silence period and voting day for the legislative elections’ first phase were largely peaceful, the campaign period itself saw the use of IEDs targeting political leaders and campaign events. There were 72 instances of election violence in these elections and 161 in the three phases of local and provincial elections.

Compared to the attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, pre-election attacks in Nepal appear to lack planning and clear goals. Civilian locations such as a jewelry store, a hydropower project, and a cell tower, were targetted rather than locations or people connected with the opposition. No active Nepalese terrorist group formally claimed responsibility for the attacks.

In Nepal, the presidency is a ceremonial role. Consequently, there is less incentive to carry out election violence before a presidential vote. However, there was a significant uptick in overall political incidents prior to these elections. These included a number of attacks on civilian infrastructure and clashes involving politically-motivated, although not necessarily terrorist, groups.

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nepal all experienced terrorism that was intended to disrupt elections prior to their national votes. However, the threats faced by these countries diverged in terms of target type and tactics. ISKP and the Taliban carried out attacks on election infrastructure including voter registration centers and election officials, while Nepal suffered attacks against civilian infrastructure and clashes between opposing political parties. 

A Nepalese policeman helps a woman to cast her vote during the legislative elections in Thimi, Bhaktapur, Nepal. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)