Afghans Debate Implications of Mullah Omar's Death

Debate audiences examine the pluses and minuses of engaging with insurgents.

Afghans Debate Implications of Mullah Omar's Death

Debate audiences examine the pluses and minuses of engaging with insurgents.

The recently-announced death of Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and the implications for the peace process dominated the debate at IWPR events held across Afghanistan last month.

Although the reclusive leader is believed to have died two or three years ago, Afghan government sources announced his death only in July, followed by confirmation from the Taleban. The news led to the temporary suspension of talks between Kabul and the Taleban.

At debates held in the eastern Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman provinces, participants examined the consequences which a change of leadership might have for the peace process.

Jamaluddin Sayar, deputy chairman of the provincial council in Kunar, predicted that there would be no long-term effect.

“Mullah Mohammad Omar’s death will have no positive or negative impact on the peace talks, because the current war in Afghanistan is led by others,” he said.

Maulavi Mohammad Anwar, a lecturer in law and political science at Kunar’s Tanwir university, said that Pakistan carried much of the blame for the continuing insurgency.

“The death of this or that Taleban [leader] will make no difference to the progress of the war,” he said. “The war is being led by Pakistan.”

In Jawzan, Baghlan and Faryab provinces in northern Afghanistan, participants discussed how the government should respond to the Taleban’s preconditions for peace talks.

Many fear that compromising on legal rights to please the Taleban will do severe damage, including to women’s rights.

“People who carry out suicide attacks and bombings, kill people and destroy this country must not be accorded privileges,” said Halima Sadaf, a member of Jawzan’s provincial council. “If the Taleban’s conditions are accepted, this will terminate our security agreements with America and other world powers. The Taleban are like a wounded snake waiting for an opportunity to strike.”

Political analyst Shamsulhaq Ayar disagreed, saying that no opportunity to talk to the insurgents must not be missed.

“Peace should be made with the Taleban, backed up by guarantees from the international community. If this doesn’t happen, the country will be destroyed by war,” he warned.

Taleban demands include a full withdrawal of all the foreign forces that remain in the country in an advisory capacity, as well some amendments to the constitution.

In other debates held in Khost, Paktika and Logar provinces, speakers talked about the role the Afghan Local Police played in ensuring security. This force is separate from the regular national police, and drawn from the ranks of a range of village militias under the authority of the interior ministry.

Although many speakers called for action to curb corruption and abuses in the Afghan Local Police, many also felt these units could be a force for good.

In Logar’s Mohammad Agha district, local government chief Sayed Naim Sultan said, “If the Afghan Local Police are better resourced, they will become more effective than any of the other security forces at keeping the peace where they operate and nationwide.”

Meanwhile, debates in Kunduz, Samangan and Takhar provinces focused on how the public could distinguish between real news and propaganda.

“At times, both sides in this war use propaganda in order to show that their fighters’ morale is strong,” said Fathullah Wafi, head of the information and culture department in Samangan’s provincial government. “The public needs to understand the agendas of the various actors in the conflict, as well as those of different media outlets. They must separate lies from truth and be able to distinguish partisan, ethnic, factional media from open, independent media.”

In total, some 1,000 Afghan citizens took part in the series of debates held in nine provinces throughout August, as part of IWPR’s Peace and Reconciliation Project, designed to create an open, safe space for discussing ways towards peace and stability.

Audience members said the open debate forum gave them a rare opportunity not only to question officials but also to gain an insight into the challenges they faced in government.

“On my way to this debate, I had many questions, but they were all answered during the discussions,” said Nilufar Qaderi, a participant in an event held in the northern province of Faryab. “Until now, I thought government officials were really useless, but it became clear during today’s debate that they too are up against many problems.”

This report is based on an ongoing series of debates conducted as part of the IWPR programme Afghan Reconciliation: Promoting Peace and Building Trust by Engaging Civil Society.


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