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What ISI chief Faiz Hameed’s visit to Kabul has to do with new Taliban govt

In Afghanistan, war and peace have been inter-changeable, with players cutting deals with the enemy without fully informing even their friends.

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Afghan journalist and spokesperson of the anti-Taliban National Resistance Front (NRF), Fahim Dashty, has been killed. Panjshir province, the last holdout against the Taliban has fallen. NRF leaders Amrullah Saleh and Ahmed Massoud are believed to have fled Panjshir. Pakistan’s intelligence chief Faiz Hameed has returned from Kabul. The Taliban have announced a new government – and invited China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Qatar to the inaugural.

That, in a nutshell, is how the story of Afghanistan has played out, three weeks after the Taliban took Kabul on 15 August. The trauma of these last few days is giving way to a recognition that the Taliban is here to stay. Even the UN has informally accepted the reality on the ground with its under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Martin Griffiths, traveling to Kabul to meet Taliban leader Mullah Baradar. Note the Afghan, not the Islamic Emirate flag, between the two seated gentlemen in their meeting.

Also read: Instead of Taliban talks, India must stand up for Afghan resistance despite Panjshir fall

As Afghanistan turns a new page, this is the granular reality on the ground:

Almost 20 years exactly to the day that Ahmed Shah Massoud, Afghanistan’s iconic leader, was assassinated on 9 September 2001, by two al-Qaeda men posing as journalists in his hideout in the Panjshir valley, Fahim Dashty was killed Sunday in the battle for Panjshir. The NRF was being led by commander Massoud’s son Ahmed Massoud and key Afghan leader Amrullah Saleh.

Only hours before Dashty’s death, Pakistan’s ISI chief Faiz Hameed, had left Kabul. He was said to have flown there on Saturday to talk to the Taliban to put together a government – some reports claimed there were differences between the Taliban and the Haqqani Network over key positions.

Dashty’s death is a sobering finality in what has obviously been one of the dirtiest conflicts of our times; in fact, Afghanistan is worse than any ordinary conflict, when at least you know who is fighting on which side. In Afghanistan, war and peace have been inter-changeable, with players cutting deals with the enemy without fully informing even their friends.

For example, US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad brokered a peace deal with the Taliban, without the Afghan government being on board. Or former President Ashraf Ghani fled Kabul without informing even his Cabinet – one of them was busy attempting to secure the city against the Taliban when he heard that his president had run away.

Unlike Ghani, my friend Fahim Dashty – one of Afghanistan’s most respected journalists – fled to the Panjshir valley, barely a 100 km from Kabul, along with commander Massoud’s son Ahmed Massoud. Twenty years ago, when commander Massoud was killed, Dashty had been in the room, but survived the explosion.  When Kabul fell to the Taliban on 15 August, Fahim exchanged his pen for the sword and became a spokesperson of the National Resistance Front — hoping to recreate the spirit of 2001.

It was not to be. According to Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid, Panjshir has fallen, the last of the provinces. According to The Washington PostSaleh has fled to Tajikistan, while Massoud’s son has tweeted that he is alive and well.

The effort to normalise the Taliban as the new rulers of Kabul continues apace.

The new Taliban head of state, according to Pakistani media reports, is Mohammed Hasan Akhund, who, analysts believe, was among those who pushed to destroy the Bamiyan Buddhas back in 2003. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the dreaded head of the anti-India Haqqani Network, is set to become the new interior minister. The Haqqani Network is on the UN sanctions list and Sirajuddin carries a $5 million US bounty on his head.  Taliban founder Mullah Omar’s son, Mullah Yaqoob, is expected to be the new defence minister. Mullah Ameer Khan Muttaqui has been nominated to be the new foreign minister. Mullah Baradar will work as a deputy to Mullah Akhund.

In one word, the Taliban government has the stamp of the Pakistani intelligence agency all over it.

There is no word on Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai, the head of the Islamic Emirate political office in Qatar, who came to the Indian embassy last week to meet Indian ambassador Deepak Mittal.

Also read: India unlikely to reopen Kabul embassy in near future, only people-to-people links to continue

As for the future, the signs are clear. The Taliban has invited China, Russia, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and Qatar to the inauguration of its government. Saudi Arabia, one of the three countries that had recognised the first Taliban government in 1996, is missing from the list. The Taliban is eager for Chinese investment— China is a big country with a huge economy and capacity. I think they can play a very big role in the rebuilding, rehabilitation, reconstruction of Afghanistan, Taliban leader Sultan Shaheen has told CGTN.

Considering the World Bank has shut down aid to Afghanistan, pending recognition of the Taliban at the UN, China is expected to become a key aid and reconstruction donor. There has been talk of expanding the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan; one of Faiz Hameed’s talking points in Kabul is said to have been the expansion of trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Post reported.

The author is a senior consulting editor. She tweets @jomalhotra. Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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