Two years after the US’s invasion of Afghanistan, there are increasing signs that the US may be looking for potential partners among the Taliban leaders for a possible peace agreement. At a time when its proxy regime under Hamid Karzai lacks all legitimacy, and anti-American forces representing both the Taliban and other mujahideen groups increasing their pressure on the US forces in the country, it is hardly surprising that the US should be looking for a way out of Afghanistan’s quagmire.
A new Taliban faction known as Jaishul Muslim was officially launched in Peshawar on September 17. Its founder, Akbar Agha, issued a statement which was published in the Urdu newspaper Nawai Waqt, in which he called for jihad against the US invaders of Afghanistan, but also criticised Taliban leader leader Mullah Umar for his "self-centred" policies.
At the same time, Karzai was making a significant point in a speech to a council of ulama in Kabul. He said that not all Taliban involved in ruling Afghanistan between 1986 and 2001 had been involved in war crimes, and therefore some could be considered for inclusion in Afghanistan’s government. This is a major point which Karzai could not have made without US approval.
In June it was reported that a meeting had taken place near Quetta between a jihadi leader with Taliban and al-Qa’ida connections, Pakistani intelligence officers and FBI representative. It was reported that the US had offered to include the Taliban in government provided Mullah Umar was removed as Taliban leader, all non-Afghanis involved in jihad in Afghanistan be expelled from the country, all US captives be released and Afghans living abroad – particularly in the US – be given a role in government. The talks stalled on the first point.
It appears that the establishment of the Jaishul Muslim is in response to US efforts, also involving Pakistan’s ISI, to create a proxy Taliban organization with which they could deal, having failed to reach agreement with senior Taliban leaders. Only one senior Taliban figure, former defence minister Mullah Abdul Razzak, is associated with Jaishul Muslim.
Although it remains unclear how much support the new group will attract – and its success will depend on Taliban fighters and supporters – there is a precedent for its approach. Immediately after the Taliban’s retreat from Kabul and Qandahar, senior Taliban members critical of Mullah Umar’s support for Usama bin Ladin established a group called Jami’at-i Khudamul Qur’an (The Association of Servants of the Qur’an). This was the Taliban’s original name when it first emerged in the 1980s, and the group’s leaders, including several Taliban ministers, claimed to be working for the re-establishment of the Taliban in its orginal form.
This group appears to have re-merged with the Taliban and its supporters are reported to be involved in anti-US jihad, a sign of the US occupation’s ability to unite disparate factions. The US will be hoping that that the Jaishul Muslim more successfully follows a in different route in challenging Mullah Umar’s charismatic and largely successful leadership.