Wednesday, February 20, 2013

As US goes Retrograde in Afghanistan Pakistan gets an Upgrade

Monish Gulati


Kicking-off the first phase of the US pull-out from Afghanistan, two convoys of 25 containers each crossed the Torkham and Chaman border check-posts in Pakistan on 10 Feb 2013. The containers, “part of the US redeployment of equipment from Afghanistan”, were on way to Karachi to be shipped back to the US. The move oddly signifies the start to what president Obama termed in his SOTUS to the American nation on 12 February 2013, the “end of our war in Afghanistan”. At the same time in sharp contrast yet within the same process, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, the leader of Pakistan’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) faction with tacit approval of the Pakistan federal government, met with the Afghan Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar. A move that sees Pakistan ‘upgrade’ itself into the lead role in the ‘Afghan-owned’ peace process after the London trilateral summit meeting held on 3-4 February 2013.

Mawlana Fazlur Rahman, the leader (amir) of the JUI-F left for Qatar on 09 February to hold talks with Taliban. 1 According to a report, it was on the invitation of the Taliban. The Maulana was accompanied by a member of the Pakistan National Assembly from the tribal areas, Haji Munir Khan Orakzai. They met a group of Taliban representatives led by Tayyab Agha and assisted by Shahabuddin Delawar on 10 February 2013 at a farmhouse in the suburbs of Doha in a first such direct meeting between representatives from Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban. 2 Tayeb Agha is a close aide and former secretary to Mullah Omar, and Shahabuddin Delawar was the Taliban envoy to Riyadh during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

Though Mawlana Fazlur Rahman is currently in the political opposition, the influential politician is believed to have been holding talks with the Taliban on behalf of Pakistan. There is no official confirmation from either Pakistan or Afghanistan about the nature and the exact purpose of the talks in Doha. However, as reported by the Pakistani media the JUI-F leader went to Doha as part of the Pakistani efforts to persuade the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. 3 In an interview on 09 February 2013, the central leader of JUI-F, Hafiz Hussain Ahmed stated that JUI-F chief had been invited to participate in the reconciliatory process between the US and Taliban. 4 He added that negotiations were also aimed at exploring ways of how Pakistan could become part of the Qatar initiative (Doha process). 5

Afghan Position

Commenting on the trip of Maulana Fazal-Ur-Rahman to Qatar, the Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul said that no talks had started with the Taliban officials in Qatar as yet and no office had been opened for the Taliban in Qatar as yet. 6 There were also reports that the Mawlana’s trip to Qatar has neither been welcomed by the High Peace Council (HPC) nor by the Afghan Government. 7 However, according to some reports in the Afghan media the HPC welcomed the recent of visit of Pakistan’s JUI-F leader, but said the Council had no prior information about the trip. The HPC added that despite being unaware of the nature of negotiations in Qatar the talks will have a positive impact on the peace process. 8

Pakistani Position

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik in his remarks on 10 February 2013 distanced the government from the JUI-F chief’s participation in the Afghan peace talks in Doha. Malik said the JUI-F chief was no longer an ally of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led government and was taking part in the Doha talks ‘in his personal capacity’. He added that “Fazlur Rehman is the head of an independent party… the government does not have any business in his negotiations with the [Afghan] Taliban or any other stakeholder.” 9 Reports in Pakistani television channels suggested the visit was part of the Pakistani government’s efforts to reach out to members of Afghan Taliban, representatives of which are already in Doha to hold preliminary talks about opening their political office. 10

JUI-F Position

The special spokesman accompanying Maulana Fazlaur Rehman on his visit to Qatar told the media that the Maulana is in Qatar on four-day party tour and he is holding consultations with the party workers in Qatar. 11 “We are here and going to meet the Pakistani community and some Qatari officials in the next couple of days, it is a trip on the invitation of the Pakistani community. Nothing else, this is a private tour”. 12

While the exact details of the outcome of the meeting in Doha have not been disclosed, it has been reported by the Afghan media that that during the meeting the Taliban said that they will only negotiate with the Kabul administration if it agrees for the establishment of transitional Government. A member of the HPC said that “peace is an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process, if it’s ignored by any country, we will not accept it.” 13


In a joint statement issued after the London summit, Karzai, Zardari and David Cameron had supported the opening of an office in Doha for the purpose of negotiations between the Afghan Taliban and the HPC. It was reported that Pakistan had certain reservations over the proposed initiative particularly regarding the preconditions that the Karzai administration consistently attaches to the Doha process. Karzai’s government wants that Doha office should only be used for negotiations between the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan HPC. Pakistan felt that such preconditions were more of a hindrance to a “broad based all-inclusive reconciliation process”. 14 The Pakistani viewpoint could have come from its need to involve the Maulana as its representative, to take lead role in the initiative and speed up the peace process.

Maulana Fazal-ur-Rahman is one of the few the political leaders of Pakistan, who, wields considerable influence across the Pakistan border in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban has received support from the madrassas run by Maulana's faction of the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam (JUI). Fazl ur-Rahman built his public image by supporting Zulfaqir Ali Bhutto's daughter Benazir Bhutto during her second term as the prime minister. His cooperation with the PPP to some extent diminished temporarily his party's image. He had charges leveled against him regarding supply permits for exporting diesel from Pakistan to Afghanistan, which earned him the nick name ‘Maulana Diesel’. Maulana Fazal is from the dominant Deobandi school of thought, the same ideology as that of the Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban. It is said that the Maulana also played a role in the last year’s secret talks between the US, Taliban and Germany in Qatar. President Karzai is also supposed to have sent a letter to the Maulana to encourage the Taliban to join peace talks.


Maulana Fazal-ur-Rahman is among three mainstream Pakistani political leaders whom the TTP has chosen to be a guarantor in its latest offer for peace talks with the country’s military. The JUI-F leader has indicated that he is ready to play the role of a mediator between the Pakistani authorities and the TTP. 17

Maulana Fazlaur Rehman’s brother and member of the National Assembly, Maulana Attaur Rehman also confirmed that JUI-F is seriously reviewing the offer of becoming a guarantor on behalf of the TTP in government-TTP peace talks. He said that the JUI-F supports dialogue with the TTP. 18

A leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood party, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, also went to Qatar to hold talks with the Taliban. 19 It’s said that Dr al-Qaradwai has contacts with the Taliban’s office in Qatar and that he played a role to spur the negotiations. Al-Qaradawi has a prominent role within the intellectual leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood and a professional relationship with the Seerah and Sunnah Center at Qatar University.

Implications for India

Maulana Fazl-Ur-Rahman, is also the Chairman of the special committee of the Pakistan National Assembly on Kashmir. The present special committee was constituted on 19th August, 2008. The maulana with his string of madrassas has today emerged as the ‘thread’ that links the Afghan Taliban, the TTP and Kashmir. He has the ear of the Pakistani and Afghan governments and he will have the US support once he secures the release of Sgt Bowe Bergdahl form the Taliban; and that of the NATO once he gets the Taliban to the negotiating table. This ‘thread’ winds down to Dar-ul-uloom in India. The Maulana’s position on India is well known. The involvement of the Maulana in the peace process raises the possibility of the Afghan Taliban and the TTP being on to a common platform, greater focus on Kashmir and reduction in India’s role in Afghanistan’s future. Irony of the situation is that the man who has provided the Afghan Taliban foot soldiers and religious legitimacy is negotiating peace for US/NATO while representing Pakistani interests.

End Notes
  1. ‘Fazl off to Qatar for Taliban talks’, The Nation, February 10, 2013.
  2. Kamran Yousaf, ‘The Qatar initiative: JUI-F chief features in Doha talks’, The Express Tribune, February 11, 2013.
  3. ibid

  4. JUI-F joins US-Taliban reconciliatory process for bringing peace in Afghanistan’, South Asian News Agency ,February 9, 2013
  5. Ser 2.
  6. Shamshad TV Headlines, February11, 2013.
  7. Hewad Daily, February 11, 2013.
  8. Hasht-e-Subh Daily, February13, 2013).

  9. Afghan peace talks: Govt distances itself from Fazl’s move’, The Express Tribune, February 11, 2013.
  10. Zia Khan. ‘Leading Pakistani cleric in Doha as Afghan Taliban get ready to open office’, Gulf Times, February 10, 2013.
  11. ‘JUI-F joins US-Taliban reconciliatory process for bringing peace in Afghanistan’, South Asian News Agency, February 9, 2013
  12. Ser 10.
  13. Tolo TV, February 12, 2013.
  14. Ser 2.
  16. Hasht-e-Subh Daily, Editorial, February 13, 2013.
  17. Ser10.
  18. Ser11.
  19. Ser8.  

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