Mullah Omar’s Eid Message

In an Eid message, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar has endorsed recent talks between Taliban and Afghan government officials. He has said that negotiating with the enemy is not prohibited in Islam.
The message comes a week after an official government delegation met with senior members of the Taliban in Murree. The meeting was the first time in several years that the two sides have had an official sit-down. It has followed a series of informal meetings since May in China, Qatar and Norway.
The Afghan Taliban have their own internal crises to deal with and Omar is a unifying figure. Mullah Omar, who was the Taliban’s head of state from 1996, has not been seen in public since 2001 when the US toppled his government in Afghanistan. As a sign of growing discontent within them, some commanders have begun to openly doubt whether he is still alive. This confusion has created splinter factions, some of which have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Though their presence in Afghanistan is limited, the Taliban issued a warning to IS not to expand operations into Afghanistan. Deepening these divisions, certain Taliban factions have in recent weeks publicly questioned the legitimacy of the delegations meeting with government officials.
Last week, senior Taliban representatives met with members of the Afghan High Peace Council in Murree. The meeting drew support from both Washington and Beijing, but was denounced by members of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, who said the Taliban delegation was not authorised to represent the movement. The purported Mullah Omar message can iron out such divisions. While Mullah Omar’s endorsement may propel the talks forward and make the Taliban cooperative, it is sad that a wanted-man’s blessing was needed to legitimise the process.
Though a peace can be cobbled together for the Afghan Taliban with Pakistan as mediator, Pakistan’s problems still remain where they are. Reports allege that Mullah Omar is hiding out in Karachi, and with the talks the narrative of “good” versus “bad” Taliban is back. While Mullah Omar is the “good” Taliban, willing to talk, Mullah Fazlullah of the TTP is the “bad”. Pakistan has to make sure that it is- and portrays itself as- a mediator and not a player. The noose around the TTP’s neck must keep getting tighter. We have already fought wars with them and what we have lost to terrorism is immense. Giving the Afghan Taliban space cannot mean that the TTP now have leverage too. The Taliban consider it necessary to try to make inroads into the establishment before ISIS makes them completely irrelevant. ISIS may not have many members in Afghanistan right now but they are like a wildfire. If this is true, it is time for Pakistan and Afghanistan to extract the maximum concessions from the Taliban.

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