Ashgabat, 3 October 2016 (nCa) — The story of Bilal Sheikh is crucial to this narrative about Afghanistan because from it I will extract several elements that go into the making of a deranged mind, though this frame of mind manifests itself in so many different ways. Somewhere it is ISIS and Boko Haram. And, somewhere it is Donald Trump and the extreme right wing politicians of the west. Nevertheless, they are all crammed in the same little corner of the spectrum.
In an analysis published at our website on 19 April 2012, I pointed out that since 1967 the Afghans zigged where they should have zagged and zagged where they should have zigged. Basically, they are the authors and main actors in this melodrama with foreign invaders and meddlers just filling the available vacuum. Here is the link to the analysis: Afghanistan: The need to be politically incorrect – http://www.newscentralasia.net/2012/04/19/afghanistan-the-need-to-be-politically-incorrect/
In this analysis I have shown that the Afghans should send their collective prayers of gratitude to Babrak Karmal and Burhanuddin Rabbani – Karmal for inviting the Soviet Union and Rabbani for sabotaging the tangible chance of preventing the American invasion.
At the start of this series I decided to tell the stories without giving any names and locations except for the story of Bilal Sheikh.
However, I have changed my mind now. For the sake of credibility the real names should be mentioned wherever possible.
Here is another story with real names:
In December 2000, the delegations of the Taliban and the Northern Alliance came to Ashgabat for peace talks. Turkmenistan did all the groundwork for these talks, drawing from the experience of similar peace talks between the Rahmon and Nuri factions that were held in Ashgabat in 1997 and that led to the formation of the coalition government in Tajikistan, thus ending the four-year civil war.
The Taliban delegation, led by their education minister Mulla Mottaqi was staying at the Nebitchi Hotel and the Northern Alliance (NA) delegation led by Rowan Farhadi was at the Nisa Hotel (now Nusay Hotel).
Francesc Vendrel, the greatly respected Spanish diplomat was then the assistant secretary general of the United Nations and the special envoy of the Secretary General for Afghanistan. He was also staying at the Nisa Hotel.
The format of the talks was that initially both the delegations will meet separately with the Turkmen side and Vendrel. After the agenda was coordinated, they would come face to face.
The basic understanding for gathering in Ashgabat was that the peace talks will remain uninterrupted no matter the ground realities i.e. even if the Taliban and the NA were clashing fiercely on the ground, they will continue their peace talks. It was called non-stop dialogue. This was a hard won success of the huge diplomatic work of Turkmenistan.
On 11 December 2000, I first met Rowan Farhadi of NA side at the Nisa Hotel and then went to meet Mulla Mottaqi of the Taliban.
Both sides said the same thing: 1. No matter how the talks end, the geographic integrity of Afghanistan is never in question; there will be no question of splitting the country. 2. The point where the sides don’t agree is the division of ministries – the NA wants the defence ministry but the Taliban don’t agree to that and instead offer several key ministries including foreign affairs, internal affairs, and finance.
Then I met Vendrel. He said that some minor differences remain but hopefully both sides will announce tomorrow morning the tentative peace and the possibility of forming a coalition government in the near future. I hope they don’t change their mind, he said as I was leaving his room.
Why would they change their mind and who would try to persuade them to change their mind, I was thinking as I pressed the button to call the lift up.
The answer, albeit vaguely, presented itself as I left the lift. Steven Mann, the then US ambassador to Turkmenistan was entering the other lift.
I knew that Vendrel was not expecting him as it was past midnight already and Vendrel had said that he would go to bed right away.
The only other person Mann could have been interested in was Rowan Farhadi, the head of the NA delegation.
I decided to wait in the lobby.
Mann returned after about 35 minutes and left the hotel. Within ten minutes or so, the Russian ambassador appeared. I am forgetting his name but he had a pronounced limp – come to think of it, of the five Russian ambassadors that have served in Turkmenistan so far, three had some kind of limp. The Russian ambassador also presumably met Farhadi and left in less than half an hour.
In the morning of 12 December 2000 we were in front of the presidential palace as the neutrality day parade was being held. When the parade was nearly halfway through, the chief of protocol of President Niyazov came down the staircase and asked the heads of the Taliban and the NA delegations to accompany him.
We were told that the delegations will thank the Turkmen president for the diplomatic and political support for the peace talks, and they will announce that they had agreed to establish at least tentative peace and hopefully will form a coalition government within the foreseeable future. They will then offer a short prayer to the Almighty and talk to the media about the breakthrough. We were told that the announcement to the media will be made immediately after the end of the parade.
However, we were still waiting nearly twenty minutes after the end of the parade when President Niyazov descended the stairs, followed by both the delegation heads and some other people.
Instead of making the expected announcement, President Niyazov called the American ambassador to come forward, then he asked the Russian ambassador to come forward, and after some thought he asked the Chinese ambassador to come forward too.
Then he said to the Taliban and the NA delegations that only these are the people that can help you.
Mulla Mottaqi of the Taliban, whose face was visibly troubled, said to the American and Russian ambassadors: “Please, for God’s sake, have mercy on the people of Afghanistan. Please let us try to make peace. Please have mercy on us.”
Rowan Farhadi of the NA left without talking to the media. Mulla Mottaqi, with the help of his interpreter, said that this is so unexpected. He did not elaborate.
It was clear that whatever fragile peace was likely to be born after the talks was shattered by the late night excursions of the American and Russian ambassadors.
It is important to note that the current leadership of the NA i.e. the trio of Dr. Abdullah, Ustad Ata and Amrullah Saleh is the reason why the current process of the peace talks with the Taliban has smashed to pieces twice.
As I have noted in another analysis, the remnants of the NA (Northern Alliance) are the biggest hurdle to peace in Afghanistan. Whenever peace is in sight, they swing their hammer to shatter it. This is what they did in December 2000 and this is what they are doing now.
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It is their shenanigans that bother me – they are holding the entire region hostage to their nastiness, hampering growth and progress.
To be continued . . .