5 years, 11 months ago
A Taliban commander who defected hours before British and Afghan forces retook the Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala has been rewarded with the governorship of the town.
Mullah Abdul Salaam switched sides after months of delicate secret negotiations with the Afghan government, as part of a programme of reconciliation backed by British commanders in Helmand.
In a move clearly intended to send a message to other potential Taliban defectors, the Afghan government has announced that he had become the new district governor with the backing of local tribes.
An Afghan government spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, said that the move was consistent with the policy of President Hamid Karzai’s government.
“The president has said before that all those former Taliban who come and accept the constitution and who want to participate in the political process through non-violent means … they are welcome.”
He added that Mullah Salaam had provided crucial intelligence to the Afghan government.
Mullah Salaam is a leader of one of the three sub-tribes of the Alizai, the dominant tribal group in Musa Qala.
As The Daily Telegraph reported in November, Mullah Salaam opened channels of communication with the government after a violent rift emerged in the Taliban around Musa Qala, during which he survived an assassination attempt.
Mullah Salaam told The Daily Telegraph: “There are two groups of Taliban fighters in Musa Qala and I have the backing of the major one. The Taliban who are against peace and prosperity in Afghanistan – I will fight them.”
Local people confirmed that he enjoyed the backing of a large swathe of the inhabitants of the town.
The issue of Taliban defections remains a highly sensitive one, following the expulsion of a British and an Irish diplomat from Kabul last month on charges of having “inappropriate contacts” with militants.
Afghan government officials accused the two men of holding meetings with Taliban leaders in Helmand without authorisation.
The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has ruled out direct talks with the Taliban leadership, but it is well known in Kabul that both the British and Afghan intelligence agencies are devoting considerable resources to trying to “turn” Taliban-aligned tribal leaders.
As we have discussed before, this is the British version of the Anbar awakening combined with payment for concerned citizens who protect the people and fight al Qaeda. But the problem with this analogy is that it is no analogy at all. It has nothing at all in common with a true awakening such as occurred in Anbar. It is true that the last decade of rule by Saddam saw the birth of a small element of youth who were motivated by religious radicalism.
By the late 1980s it had become clear that secular pan-Arabism fused with socialist ideas was no longer a source of inspiration for some Ba’th Party activists. Many young Sunni Arabs adopted an alternative ideology, namely, fundamentalist Islam based essentially on the thought of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. A minority even moved toward the more extreme Salafi, and even Wahhabi, interpretation of Islam. The regime was reluctant to repress such trends violently, even when it came to Wahhabis, for the simple reason that these Iraqi Wahhabis were anti-Saudi: much like the ultraradical Islamist opposition in Saudi Arabia, they, too, saw the Saudi regime as deviating from its original Wahhabi convictions by succumbing to Western cultural influences and aligning itself with the Christian imperialist United States. This anti-Saudi trend served the Iraqi regime’s political purposes.
But this proves the bifurcation that was inherent in the Anbaris which led to the awakening. These radical youth were an insignificant fraction of the population and were not ever fair game in the strategy to win hearts and minds. They were the enemy, and there was never a time when they weren’t the enemy. They quickly aligned with al Qaeda, and the less radical citizens were really the ones in play in the overall strategy. Al Qaeda and those with whom they were aligned have been essentially defeated in Anbar and are losing in Diyala. Peace was sought with those from the indigenous insurgency who saw themselves as something other than jihadis. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are by very definition religiously defined. Even the casual reader might consider Afghanistan seven years ago (Taliban in charge) and compare it to the Afghanistan of today (with the Taliban in charge if the British strategy plays out) and recall that the only real change is that Hamid Karzai is at the helm, a tenuous charge and precarious perch to be sure.
While the MI6 agents who were negotiating with the Taliban have been ejected from the country, the strategy of acquiescence to the Taliban continues to be implemented by British military command. After their failed military campaign in and pullout from Basra, the British are actively negotiating the turnover of the Afghanistan government to the very enemy defeated upon the initial invasion of Afghanistan in order to end the campaign. This strategy has at least the tacit approval of Hamid Karzai, as U.S. troop presence and strategy is not sufficient to allow him to object. U.S. and NATO lack of force projection gives him no other choice.