The heads of religious political parties in Pakistan are being urged to use their influence over the Taliban to persuade the insurgent movement to embrace politics instead of violence in .
In recent days Afghanistan’s ambassador to Islamabad visited a cleric regarded as the “father of the Taliban” in his seminary in Pakistan’s tribal belt to discuss efforts to revive flagging peace efforts between Kabul and the militants.
The meeting with Sami ul Haq at his madrasa in Akora Khattak highlighted the role some analysts believe Pakistan’s religious right can play in guiding a movement that has always decried democracy as western and un-Islamic towards mainstream politics.
A spokesman for the faction of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) headed by Fazal-ur-Rehman said the needed to follow the “Pakistan model” where Islamist parties further their cause by winning seats in parliament.
“We are telling them they cannot survive as a militant force, and have to sit at the table with other Afghan stakeholders to resolve their differences politically,” the spokesman said. “If they want to evolve they need to learn from .”
As ethnic Pashtuns and members of the hardline Sunni Deobandi movement, both Haq and Rehman are cut from the same ideological and ethnic cloth as the Afghan Taliban.
Although the Pakistani Taliban also overwhelmingly draws from among Deobandi ranks, members of the movement are also active in democratic politics.
Rehman, one of Pakistan’s wiliest politicians, has seats in parliament as well as in the provincial assembly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Pashtun-dominated province bordering Afghanistan. His JUI-F party has served in coalition governments.
Haq also once sat in parliament as a senator. Although his wing of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (literally, “party of the clerics”) is largely defunct, as the former teacher of many Taliban leaders, including its chief Mullah Omar.
“We are Pakistani but the relationship between a teacher and a student is like a father-son relationship,” said a statement released by Haq’s office following the meeting with the Afghan ambassador on Saturday.
He appealed to the Taliban to unite in the wake of the succession dispute triggered by that Mullah Omar died two years ago.
“The Taliban should immediately unite and pave the way for positive, peaceful negotiations, else it will be a betrayal of hundreds of thousands of martyrs,” the statement said.
Policymakers in Kabul have long hoped the example of men such as Rehman and Haq could serve as a model for the Afghan Taliban.
“It is time the Taliban were transformed into a political force in Afghanistan,” said Umer Daudzai, a former ambassador to Islamabad who also served as Afghanistan’s interior minister. “Although it is likely a significant proportion of the Taliban may continue as an extremist organisation, the rest could participate as a political party, a very strong political party. Afghanistan after all is a very religious country and they have influence at the rural level.”
The prospect of a Taliban political party forming in Afghanistan is still remote. The movement first needs to reconcile with the Afghan government, a process that has seen several false dawns.
The latest setback to talks is the current turmoil within the Taliban and .
One encouraging sign is the changing stance of Pakistan’s religious right towards peace talks, which echoes the thinking of a security establishment that for years supported the insurgency but is now pushing hard for a negotiated end to the conflict.
Achakzai, a former BBC journalist turned politician, said the Taliban’s new leadership needed to show more pragmatism because there was now “less tolerance for militancy in the whole region”.
He said: “After 9/11 we supported their cause because they were fighting an American invasion. But now it is another era. The US is withdrawing and their only future now is to become a stakeholder in the system.”