Libmonster ID: UK-1440
Author(s) of the publication: V. G. KORGUN



Doctor of Historical Sciences Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Key words: the Afghan problem, the negotiation process, the dialogue of political forces, the Taliban movement, extremist ideology, the terrorist threat At the end of December 2012, the world media reported: in the vicinity of Paris, in the town of Chantilly, negotiations were held between representatives of the Afghan government, the loyal (systemic, parliamentary) opposition and the Taliban. To many, this short piece of information was encouraging, indicating that the peace process in the long-suffering country has finally begun. However, it soon became clear that it was too early to be happy. And the meeting near Paris is just the beginning of a long chain of attempts by Kabul and its Western backers to start a negotiation process, the need for which they recognized back in 2007.

Since then, the situation related to a peaceful solution to the Afghan problem has changed little - full-fledged negotiations have not begun. Although Kabul and its foreign sponsors have tried various means to achieve this goal. Back in 2004, by decree of President Hamid Karzai, a National Reconciliation Commission was established headed by the Chairman of the Senate, a well-known religious figure who was briefly President of Afghanistan, S. Mojaddidi. In 2005, the Afghan President called on the Taliban to come to the negotiating table and start a dialogue, but there was no adequate response. And then, given the role of Islamabad, which is constantly accused by Kabul of secretly supporting the Taliban, who took refuge in the North-Western Border Province of Pakistan, H. Karzai decided to resort to traditional methods of conflict resolution in tribal society - to convene a Grand Jirga (Grand Council) representatives of the Pashtun tribes of the two countries.


And so, in accordance with the agreement reached in September 2006 during the trilateral Pakistan-Afghanistan-US summit in Washington, a Large Jirga ("Peace Jirga")was held in Kabul from August 9 to 11, 2007 elders of border tribes living in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was also attended by representatives of the administrations of both countries, including Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz from the Pakistani side. The final session was attended by the Presidents of Pakistan - Pervez Musharraf, and Afghanistan-Hamid Karzai.

Kabul had high hopes for this jirga. However, despite the declared success of the event, it turned out to be fruitless and, like most of the regional jirgas that followed, ended only with a loud declaration and a call for the rebels to lay down their weapons. The failure of the Grand Jirga was largely due to the fact that the Taliban were not invited to attend. In addition, representatives of the radical Pakistani Islamist parties that dominated the parliaments of the Northwestern Border Province and Balochistan Province at that time, as well as the heads of the Pashtun tribes of these provinces, refused to participate in it. Even the support of the two countries ' top leaders for the jirga did not help.

Despite these failed attempts, there was growing support in Kabul and in the capitals of its Western partners for the idea that it was impossible to end the Afghan conflict militarily and that it was necessary to find compromises with the insurgents. The necessary conditions for starting peace talks were also worked out: the opponents of Kabul must lay down their weapons, break ties with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, and recognize the current constitution of Afghanistan. Taliban leaders who previously formed their own governing body, the Quetta Shura ("Council in Quetta") on the territory of Pakistan, in response, they demanded the immediate withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

There seemed to be a stalemate when the conditions of both sides were unacceptable to the warring parties. Nevertheless, in this atmosphere of political hopelessness, an unexpected and truly sensational announcement came that negotiations between representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban were taking place in Saudi Arabia, in Mecca. This news appeared at the end of September 2008 in the British weekly Observer. The newspaper reported that the Taliban are engaged in secret talks to end the conflict in Afghanistan as part of a" peace process " sponsored by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United Kingdom1.

Information about the negotiations was presented to the public on the eve of the event itself by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan R. D. Spanta. He told a news conference that "good news" about an agreement with the Taliban is expected in the coming days.2 There can hardly be any doubt that this was a deliberate leak of information, although the very fact of the meeting of representatives of the Afghan conflicting parties was immediately denied by the Taliban leadership. They issued a statement on this occasion, where it was said: "The goal is this

page 13

The goal of propaganda is to create an atmosphere of division among Muslims in order to weaken the Ummah (community of devout Muslims). We will continue our struggle until all foreign troops leave."3. The statement also stressed that former members of the Taliban movement who have defected to the government or are under its control cannot be associated with this organization.

The news of the meeting in Mecca came at an extremely difficult time, when the Taliban fighting units were 20 minutes away by car from Kabul. No one, however, seriously feared that the extremists would take over the capital: it is surrounded by mountains, there are only a few passages for access to Kabul. In addition, about 71,000 troops of the international coalition 4 are stationed in the country. However, no matter how much UN representatives talk about the schools and clinics built in recent years, roads and bridges, there is not a single optimist in the country who would believe in NATO's military success. The statistics were quite grim: in less than 2008, 232 NATO troops were killed in Afghanistan - the largest losses since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.During the same period, 4,500 civilians were also killed. 5


In those days, the media did not hide their concern about the deteriorating situation in the country. According to UN sources, the Taliban had a significant presence in 5 of the 6 provinces adjacent to Kabul. Four of them - Wardak, Logar, Kapisa and Parwan - were declared closed to visitors by the Afghan logistics service, which provided transport for foreigners. In one month alone, rebels burned 51 trucks in Wardak province and 10 schools in Logar. Terrorist acts committed by insurgents have become more frequent. So, on the main highway N 1, leading from the capital to the south, already 20 minutes away from the city, "craters" in the asphalt were clearly visible - traces from the explosions of improvised devices used by the Taliban. There were more attempts on high-ranking officials. In September 2008, a car carrying the Governor of Logar Province and two of his bodyguards was shot at a half-hour drive from Kabul. And at the end of the month, a bomb planted on the outskirts of the capital killed two policemen and wounded the head of the investigation department, General Paktiyawal, who was investigating the deaths of three policemen who were poisoned while on duty at checkpoint 6.

The Taliban were increasingly confident in the countryside. "They are like ghosts," complained Haji Ahmad, an agricultural instructor, " appearing at night and walking around villages, turning off the music at weddings and threatening punishment for those who cooperate with foreigners." According to an American adviser at the Department of Energy, of the 19 regional electric utilities in the country, 4 are run by the Taliban. The Taliban are a fact of life, complained the Canadian Development Authority employee, and we have to keep in touch with them, otherwise nothing can be done. The International Security Forces (ISAF) are forced to pay "tribute" to the Taliban through private contractors in order to get fuel and water. So, the company that supplied the headquarters of the British troops at Camp Bastion paid for the delivery of fuel 2 thousand pounds per tanker, of which, according to the calculations of the British, a quarter went to the Taliban.

The Taliban are willingly or unwittingly "helped" by the Americans, whose aerial bombardments bring a lot of civilian casualties. For example, in July 2008, an air raid in the eastern province of Nangarhar killed 47 people attending wedding celebrations. A few weeks later, 9 police officers were killed in the western province of Farah. In September of the same year, 30 to 90 people were killed in Azizabad.7


Let's return to the meeting in Mecca. Outwardly, this news looked really quite unexpected, but the idea of holding such a meeting was intensively developed in the depths of secret diplomacy. Back in September 2008, President X. Karzai said he had asked the King of Saudi Arabia to help engage the Taliban in peace talks. He also said that Afghan representatives have repeatedly made trips to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to facilitate negotiations. "For two years now," the President reminded at a press conference, " I have been sending messages to the Saudi King and asking him, as the leader of the Muslim world, to help us bring peace to Afghanistan. Preparations for the talks are underway on a daily basis."

However, a year earlier, in September 2007, he announced for the first time that he was ready to enter into a dialogue with the supreme leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, whereas previously he agreed to contact only with the military leaders of the second-tier Taliban. Exactly one year later. Karzai once again called on Mullah Omar and his followers to come to the negotiating table:"We want our brothers, i.e. the Taliban, who raised their hand against their people and country, including Mullah Omar, to return to their homeland and work for peace." 8

In response, on September 30, the Taliban leader posted an online message to the people on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr (breaking fast) at the end of the month of Ramadan, promising foreign troops a safe withdrawal from Afghanistan. The same document also instructed the Taliban to refrain from actions "contrary to the laws and culture of Islam", including killing members of the civilian population and looting their property, destroying school textbooks, blowing up mosques and cutting off the ears of opponents.9

In the following days, despite denials, information about the meeting in Saudi Arabia continued to spread. On October 6, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdussalam Zaif, who served 4 years in Guantanamo Bay and defected to the government, expressed his version of events. He said that he was invited to a dinner by Saudi King Abdullah on the occasion of breaking the fast at the end of Ramadan. According to him, representatives of the Taliban, the Afghan government and the Hekmatyar group fighting against Kabul met for dinner. At the same time, he stressed, there were no discussions related to Afghanistan, and none of the representatives of the Taliban and G. Hake-

page 14

Mathiara was not authorized to conduct peace negotiations. However, he specified that in Mecca there were "...consultations on the future of Afghanistan, on stability, on peace, and what can be done to make all this a reality." Among the guests of the Saudi King, A. Zaif named the former chairman of the Supreme Court of Afghanistan, who headed the Kabul delegation to Mecca, Fazl Hadi Shinwari, who was appointed head of the Council of Ulema (theologians) of Afghanistan by the President shortly before. He also mentioned Afghan Army Chief of General Staff Bismillah Khan, although it remained unclear whether the latter was part of the group that met with the Saudi king10.

The meeting in Mecca may have led to growing support for the idea of engaging in a dialogue with the "moderate" Taliban, although the term was used in different ways by different forces, most often referring to influential former Taliban figures, such as the Taliban Government's Foreign Minister, Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil. This position was then shared even by the United States, including President Barack Obama and the US military. However, not everyone supported her. For example, a well-known Afghan journalist, Wahid Mozhda, who served in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the Taliban rule, not without reason believed that negotiations within the framework of national reconciliation should be conducted not with "moderate" Taliban, but with extremist leaders of the movement who are leading the war against Kabul and its Western partners.

Information about the meeting in Mecca was also confirmed by the Saudi-owned pan-Arab newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, which named two other influential participants in the meeting. These are Mullah Mohammad Taeb Agha, the former head of the Kandahar administration and spokesman for Mullah Omar, and V. A. Muttawakil, already mentioned. According to some reports, the dinner with the Saudi king was also attended by the older brother of the Afghan president, Qayum Karzai, who unofficially represented the head of state.11

The Saudi government declined to comment on the event. Even during the meeting, rumors leaked to the press that the Taliban leader "is no longer an ally of al-Qaeda." Official Kabul confirmed its position: Afghan religious leaders who were invited to dinner with the king went to Mecca, but there were no negotiations with the Taliban. However, as Hamidzad, a spokesman for Karzai, told AFP (Afghan Free Press), " ... the Government wants such talks to take place in order to find a way to end the ongoing Taliban hostilities. But how, when and where, by what mechanism and with whose help - we are working on it " 12.


Meanwhile, former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif joined the process of finding peaceful ways to resolve the Afghan conflict, who expressed his readiness to act as an organizer of negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government. His statement came after it became known that together with the Saudi king, he intends to help reach an agreement between the conflicting parties. During the second term of N. Sharif's government in 1997-1999. Pakistan actively supported the Taliban. The former prime minister also had close ties to Saudi Arabia, where he spent 7 years in exile, returning to his homeland in 2007. Before the meeting in Mecca, he spent two weeks there in connection with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr (breaking the fast).

Nawaz Sharif is a fairly reputable figure who can play a significant role in Kabul's contacts with the Taliban. In the early 1990s, he was one of the key figures in negotiations between various political forces in Afghanistan. In August 2008, he managed to strengthen his position in Pakistan, when, as part of a confrontation with President P. Musharraf, who in 1999 removed him from the post of prime Minister, he withdrew his party from the ruling coalition and headed a large opposition bloc. Saudi Arabia, in turn, has also become an important element in the negotiation process. It also played a role in the Taliban's contacts with their opponents in the 1990s.

The attempt to initiate negotiations with the Taliban also resonated in the military circles of the NATO member states, whose defense ministers met in Budapest on October 9, 2008. They recognized the need to seek ways to engage in dialogue with the Taliban, but found many difficulties in doing so. In particular, questions were asked: does the Taliban have a unified military command that can be dealt with; are they ready to reconsider their views on women's rights; will the Taliban leadership continue to adhere to its extremist ideology, which has made them pariahs in world public opinion; what to do with other rebel groups that are allies of the Taliban?

However, there were also doubts about the possibility of holding negotiations and their effectiveness. "The meeting [in Mecca] was a sign of the weakness of the Karzai government, which desperately needs a solution to the conflict," said Wahid Mozhda, an Afghan journalist mentioned above. - The meeting was held at a time when the insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan reached the peak of its power. This leads some analysts to doubt that the militants are interested in achieving peace."

It is unlikely that the idea of negotiations with the Taliban was supported by representatives of national minorities in the north of the country - Tajiks and Uzbeks, who fought against the Taliban as part of the Northern Alliance coalition, which still has influence among members of parliament. The "Northerners" rightly feared that the Taliban would come to power as a result of a policy of national reconciliation and, as a result, more than likely reprisals against them. Moreover, many observers suggested that the former Taliban who attended the meeting in Mecca may not have had enough influence to persuade the current Taliban to come to the negotiating table. "These people do not represent the Taliban," V. Mozhda was convinced. "Most of them have virtually no ties to the current Taliban leadership." 13


Indeed, according to press reports, none of the" current " Taliban were present at the meeting.

page 15

According to participants or people familiar with the situation, a group of 17 Afghans met with the King and other Saudi officials. Among them were former Taliban Foreign Minister Mullah Mohammad Gaue, who is based in Quetta, Abdul Hakim Mujahid, an uncredited representative of the Taliban Government to the UN, and Abdussalam Hashimi, the former head of the finance department of the extremist group in Hekmatyar. None of the King's guests belonged to the Taliban at that time. Some of them, such as former Deputy Minister in the Taliban government and Senator Maulavi Arsala Rahmani in 2008, did not have much influence in the Taliban Government. Others, including former Taliban Foreign Minister V. A. Muttawakil, have lost influence among the movement's leadership. On the official side of Kabul, MP Aref Nurzai and National Security Adviser Zalmay Rasul were present.

However, the Government of X. Karzai may have used some former Taliban members who still have ties to the Taliban leadership as intermediaries in his contacts. Mullah Abdussalam Zaif, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, is still respected by the Taliban. Mullah Omar's early ally Abdullah Zakeri, who later retired from politics, and former Foreign Minister Mullah Mohammad Gaue are also said to have friendly ties with Taliban leaders. They also attended a dinner at the king's 14.

In the future, the circle of people present at the dinner with the Saudi monarch gradually expanded. Among them were the direct organizers of the meeting - KSA Foreign Intelligence Chief Prince Muqrin and his predecessor in this post, Prince Turki al-Faisal. An important facet of the official Riyadh's position at this meeting was also revealed: Saudi Arabia was most concerned about the fate of Pakistan, which, according to the Saudis, under the influence of Al-Qaeda could have descended to Islamism, and which should have been protected from this influence. The Saudis feared a destabilization of the situation in Pakistan. Their concerns were also related to the failed attempt by Osama bin Laden and his organization to overthrow the Saudi royal regime in 2003. They made no secret of their interest in getting the Taliban to sever their ties with al-Qaeda.15


An unexpected reaction to the meeting in Mecca was expressed by the leader of the Islamic Party of Afghanistan, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who announced his readiness to start negotiations with the government on concluding a peace agreement. In particular, he stated that his party is ready to discuss the possibility of withdrawing foreign troops from the country, and also expressed his intention to conduct a dialogue on the formation of a national government, in which all political parties and factions would be represented. This could be seen as a hint of the desirability of including the Taliban in any future government. He also believed that the only way out of the current "spiral of violence" was through negotiations. Hekmatyar called on Kabul not to exclude the Islamic Party and the Taliban from the political process, as happened at the Bonn conference. He also suggested that NATO troops in Afghanistan should be replaced by "Islamic" ones. 16 However, Mr. Hekmatyar repeatedly violated his commitments and was also tainted by numerous grave crimes. It is not surprising that in 2003 the United States included the Islamic Party of Hekmatyar in the" black list " of terrorist organizations.

As time went on, speculation, research, and speculation about possible negotiations with the Taliban grew. Although the information about the talks in Mecca was still denied by everyone, new ideas appeared about holding a second round of the meeting in the same Mecca. In particular, Fazl Shinwari, the head of the Kabul delegation at the meeting, said that Saudi King Abdullah agreed to mediate in new contacts between representatives of the conflicting parties. It was expected that the second round of the meeting will take place in the near future in Dubai. The Taliban, according to Shinwari, handed over their passports to two of their representatives through him to arrange a trip to the Emirates 17. However, the information about the upcoming meeting in Dubai has not found sufficient authoritative confirmation.

Nevertheless, the Saudis, on their own initiative, sent the Taliban's demands to Kabul and its Western partners. They included seven points, including a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from the country, defining the role of representatives of the Taliban movement in the central government and provincial authorities, integrating Taliban fighters into the Afghan army, and granting amnesty to rebels who fought against the United States18. These demands were "voiced" by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid: "No one in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the official name of Afghanistan during the Taliban rule) is ready to negotiate with this government. We are being asked to recognize the Constitution and the presence of American and other foreign troops in Afghanistan. Our condition is the withdrawal of all foreign troops, and without this we are not ready for dialogue. " 19

In the conditions when the direct continuation of the meeting in Mecca did not take place, official Kabul made attempts to return to the use of the traditional tribal instrument of conflict resolution. At the end of October 2008, at his initiative, a "small jirga" (jirgagai) was convened by representatives of Pashtun tribes, political and public figures from both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border - 25 people on each side. Its meetings were held in Islamabad. The Afghan delegation was led by former Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah, while the Pakistani delegation was led by Governor of the Northwestern Border Province of Owais Ahmad Ghani. This jirga was conceived as a continuation of the Great Jirga of 2007. It was supposed to reveal how the latter's decisions were being implemented. In addition, its meetings addressed issues of tribal cooperation on both sides of the border. The practical result of the jirga was the creation of an Afghan and Pakistani committees of 5 members each to negotiate with the Taliban and other extremist groups.20 But this jirga also proved ineffective, again due to the Taliban's disregard for it.

page 16

everyone "bends their own line", and the end is not in sight...

The failure of attempts to organize negotiations with the Taliban at various levels has given rise to a certain pessimism among politicians and in the media. Thus, the United States, agreeing in principle with the need for negotiations with the Taliban, categorically opposed the participation of the movement's leader Mullah Omar in this process, referring to the fact that he is responsible for the victims on the part of the Americans ("the blood of thousands of Americans is on his hands, while he relies on the help of Al-Qaeda").. This also contradicted the position of H. Karzai, who in September 2008 called on Mullah Omar to return to his homeland and join the peaceful life.

The former head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), retired General Hamid Gul, who at one time maintained close ties with Afghan extremists, also expressed an opinion about possible negotiations, which is also very far from optimistic. In his opinion, the Taliban could agree to negotiations if they were recognized as a political force, the timetable for the withdrawal of the international coalition troops was determined, and the Taliban prisoners were released. He expressed confidence that negotiations should be conducted directly with Mullah Omar. Finally, he believed that Pakistan should also be involved in the negotiations. As for the chances of the Karzai government, the general was categorical: "I know the Taliban, have worked with them for a long time, and I can say that they will never engage in dialogue with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, because they consider him a traitor and a puppet." He also added that the Taliban will be ready to talk to the Americans only under certain conditions: negotiations should be public, the United States recognizes that the Taliban are not terrorists, but fighters who defend their country, the United States and NATO name the date of withdrawal of their troops and release all Taliban prisoners.21


So, there are so many contradictory opinions, judgments, assessments, statements and refutations around the meeting in Mecca that the question naturally arises: what really happened there? And why did all parties unanimously refuse to make the event official?

There may be several versions here. This seems to me to be the most reasonable explanation. The individuals and organizations involved in the meeting tried in every possible way to disavow its status as an official event, for fear of" scaring " and disrupting the fragile opportunity to make contact with each other for the first time. And most importantly, the conflicting parties were not ready to hold full-scale negotiations: the responsibility for their outcome was too great before the people and before their supporters. It was not possible to develop an agenda, and the clear boundaries of the issues discussed were not defined. In addition, none of the conflicting parties dared to send their official authorized representatives to the meeting.

In addition, the subject of negotiations was not determined by the opponents of Kabul. It was not clear who to negotiate with: the Taliban is far from a monolithic structure; there are other rebel groups besides it. The Taliban, in turn, also did not identify their partners in the negotiations: on the one hand, they categorically refused to conduct a dialogue with the government of X. Karzai, but did not rule out negotiations with Kabul in principle. They may have intended to hold talks with another president - the country was due to hold presidential elections in 2009. Apparently, the rebels expected to deal with Karzai's successor, who might have a different relationship with the United States and Pakistan. There were a lot of other unresolved issues related to the preparation and organization of such a historically and politically important event.

In essence, the meeting in Mecca can be considered as contacts between the two sides, within the framework of which each other's positions were probed, and nothing more. The parties were given the opportunity, albeit through intermediaries, to present their conditions and requirements to each other, the fulfillment of which could pave the way for future official negotiations.

In any case, this event was of great importance for the subsequent development of the political situation in Afghanistan. It showed that a peaceful solution to the conflict is possible, and that national interests can prevail over the ambitions of individuals, even of the highest rank. Although the meeting in Mecca did not have a direct continuation, later attempts were made to sit down again at the negotiating table, at different levels and in different formats.

Shahzad Syed Saleem. 1 Afghanistan: Taliban rejects reports of imminent peace dealt // AKI. Kabul, September 29, 2008.

2 Ibidem.

3 Ibid.

Lamb Christina. 4 Taliban revival sets swirling through Kabul // The Sunday Times. September 28, 2008.

5 Ibidem.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Taliban chief "safe retreat" for foreign troops // AFP, Kabul. September 30, 2008.

9 Afghan president seeks Saudi help for Taliban talks // AFP, Kabul. September 30, 2008.

Strasiuzo Jason. 10 Taliban, Afgan officials met in Saudi Arabia // Associated Press. October 6, 2008.

Patience Martin. 11 Karzai's brother "met ex-Taliban" //BBC News, Kabul. October 8, 2008.

12 Kabul held Mecca talks wish Taliban: Saudi paper // AFP, Riyadh. October 7, 2008.

Gopal Anand. 13 No Afghan-Taliban peace talks, for now // Christian Science Monitor. October 9, 2008.

Hammond Andrew. 14 Saudi Arabia hosts Taliban talks to bolster Pakistan// Reuters, Riyadh. October 15.

15 Hekmatyar offers peace-deal conditions - (October 15, 2008)

Barker Kim. 16 Hints of peace talks spark warring words // Chicago Tribune. October 22, 2008.

Ignatius David. 17 Tea With the Taliban? // Washington Post. October 26, 2008.

Baker Aryn. 18 As Afghanistan slides, Chance of a Taliban deal increases - KABUL, October 13, 2008.

19 Ibidem.

20 Afganistan agree on agenda for peace tribal council // Regional Times (Pakistan). October 22, 2008.

Liconti Marco. 21 Afganistan: Pakistan's ex-spymaster outlines Taliban demands // AKI. Islamabad. October 15, 2008.


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