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Rise of IS disrupts prospects of potential mediation in Afghanistan

By Farman Nawaz (Global Times)    08:17, February 03, 2015
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Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The news that some of the Afghan Taliban went to Beijing late last year to show their willingness for Chinese mediation between the Afghan government and the Taliban was surprising. In the past, there was little willingness on the part of the Taliban to look to regional powers for support.

Although past Chinese ambassadors to Afghanistan have met with Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and there were some reports of Chinese endeavors to make the power sector operational in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, American attacks on Afghanistan destroyed the regional makeover.

Bringing the warring Taliban to table for talks will be a tremendous achievement of China. But the Afghan Taliban are the descendants of the Afghan Mujahideen who fought against the USSR and later on among themselves.

It must be kept in mind that great powers in the beginning provided funds to these fighters against the USSR and later left them on their own. The umbrella of Talibanization was provided to reorganize fighters against the Northern Alliance. The murder of famous leader Ahmad Shah Massoud just before the 9/11 attacks was the turning point and afterward the rise of the Taliban as a whole could not provide enough impetus to unite the warring groups. Different factions of the Taliban pursued opposing objectives.

Now the battle is on between the umbrellas of Talibanization and the Islamic State (IS) to organize the different factions of the Taliban. The real task is not to mediate between the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government but to save the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban from becoming part of the IS movement. The IS threat to regional countries is not a rumor.

The declining Al Qaeda is no longer able to unite the Taliban. The Pakistani Taliban were separated from the Afghan Taliban and used against Pakistan. Similarly, there is no guarantee of unity among the Afghan Taliban even if Chinese mediation is accepted by the leadership and the Afghan government. The forces which want to destabilize the region can extend the umbrella of IS to Afghanistan and Pakistan to disrupt the peace process.

IS plans for expansion in the next five years include Pakistan, Afghanistan and possibly China. IS emergence will require it to recruit from warring factions of Pakistani, Afghan and Chinese extremists. Compared to Pakistan and China, the Afghan mountains can provide a better shelter to IS. The Taliban movement will surely find safe haven under the IS umbrella.

Reports of top leaders and fighters of the Pakistani Taliban now being included in IS are an example of a tilt among warring factions toward the new top dog. The Guardian reported that "The dramatic rise of IS in Syria and Iraq is helping to tear apart the Pakistani Taliban, the beleaguered militant group beset by infighting and splits."

Al Arabiya, with Reuters, also noted that the Pakistani Taliban have declared its support to IS and ordered their fighters across the region to help the Middle Eastern extremists. Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported last year that "Leaflets calling for support for IS were seen in parts of northwest Pakistan, and at least five Pakistani Taliban commanders and three lesser cadres from the Afghan Taliban have pledged their support."

The Chinese initiative to facilitate negotiations between the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government can only be successful if the IS threat is handled in a timely fashion, or regional extremists will find a new patron.

The author is a Pakistani columnist and runs an Urdu Weekly newspaper in Pakistan. [email protected] 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Yuan Can,Yao Chun)

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