Focus | As Violence Flares Up Again, Afghan Peace Process In Doubt
On Tuesday, armed men attacked a maternity clinic in Kabul, killing at least 16 people including two newborn babies, while on the same day a suicide bomber killed at least 24 others at the funeral congregation of a police officer. It seems there has been a bloodbath following the peace deal signed between the Taliban and the United States this year.
The attacks have elicited widespread condemnation both in Afghanistan and across the globe, while the country’s incumbent president Dr: Ashraf Ghani ordered Afghan forces to move into offensive mode from their defensive stance and step up counter-terror operations.
Responsibility for both attacks appears to have been claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, while the Afghan Taliban appear to have denied their involvement. But the Taliban have added that they are fully prepared for any misadventure by Afghan forces, in a statement issued by Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesperson for the Afghan Taliban. Security experts hold that these attacks are against the modus operandi of the Afghan Taliban and this hospital was located in a Shia Hazara area – suggesting involvement by the IS group, due to its reliance on anti-Shia rhetoric. But Afghan security analysts and journalists also believe that there is close coordination between different militant groups in Afghanistan and these attacks are only pressure tactics on the Afghan government.
Naya Daur Media talked to Afghan and Pakistani journalists about the recent spate of terrorism in Afghanistan.
What makes the peace process so unstable?
Sami Yousafzai, an Afghan journalist and author, says that there was a major fault in the peace agreement, as the United States’ special representative on Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad included the agenda of releasing 5,000 Taliban prisoners in the early stages. But on the other side, President Ashraf Ghani did not agree to this immediate release of the prisoners, arguing that the Taliban must sit with the Afghan government for negotiations or at least assure the Afghan government that after the release of the prisoners, the Taliban would announce a ceasefire. The Taliban did not agree on this issue because they were not looking for a ceasefire as such, being more interested in the release of prisoners. Yousafzai adds that the Taliban believe that they will sit with the Afghan government for an intra-Afghan dialogue and will announce a ceasefire, but for that Ashraf Ghani did not agree. “The United States believes that Ashraf Ghani is a puppet president in Afghanistan and will bow down to every order from Washington DC. But the president’s relations with the US turned hostile and same reaction was seen from the US. Nevertheless, Ghani, for the future of Afghanistan, released more than 900 prisoners. It seems clearly that the Taliban have not agreed on peace” Yousafzai adds.
Pakistani journalist and Pak-Afghan relations expert Tahir Khan believes that the climate inside Afghanistan is turning to one of greater hostility and the hopes created after the peace deal are totally ruined. He adds that some days ago, Gardez, the biggest city of Paktia, was targeted despite the settlement between the Taliban and the US that they will not target the biggest cities. For their part, the Taliban never announced a ceasefire in Afghanistan, while every year they started new operations in the spring season. Nevertheless, the Taliban claimed that the Gardez attack was retaliation for the Afghan president’s statement regarding operations against the Taliban.
Where does the United States stand?
Sami Yousafzai believes that the agreement was signed between the US and the Taliban: not between the Taliban and the state of Afghanistan. That makes it harder to predict its outcome in terms of reducing violence. “The Taliban never decreased violence. In fact, the level of violence was always climbing in the past month. And in the previous month Laghman was targeted. Zabul was brutally attacked, in a ghastly episode where Afghan soldiers’ dead bodies were burned. Last week a nexus of the Haqqani network and the Islamic State group was discovered, so it is clear that these groups have links with each other to put pressure on the Afghan government” Yousafzi says.
He adds that the United States is also under serious pressure because they can’t complete a withdrawal while leaving Afghanistan in the turmoil of terrorism. But it is all totally dependent on the Presidential election in the United States. “If Donald Trump resumes office after the election, then there are chances of a withdrawal. If he does not return to office, then there will be a different political environment.”
Tahir Khan agrees with Sami Yousafzai that the tension stems from the fact that the agreement did not involve the Afghan government. The Afghan government believes that it, rather than the United States, ought to be deciding issues such as the fate of the prisoners. “I think that egos of Afghan government and Taliban will further ruin the peace in Afghanistan.” In Tahir Khan’s view, the issue of the prisoners looms large over the fate of any peace negotiations, because the Afghan government released more than 1,000 prisoners and the Taliban also released more than 200 prisoners. If this process of prisoner releases is stopped, then both stakeholders will have the option to attack each other, which will bring more violence to Afghanistan.
Can the Taliban win?
Following President Ashraf Ghani’s statement on targeting Taliban installations, the Afghan government believes that the United States will support them. But contrary to his statement, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo didn’t support Ghani’s claim and instead directed that the Taliban and the Afghan government should join forces against the IS group. The same was conveyed by Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, who took the view that these attacks were conducted by IS and not the Taliban. “And so, it seems Ashraf Ghani is alone in his recent decision of taking action against the Taliban” Tahir Khan says.
Sami Yousafzai believes that the Taliban are making a wrong assessment that they will capture Kabul like in 1996. Today’s Afghanistan is totally different from that period. The Taliban captured Kabul from the Northern Alliance and Burhanuddin Rabbani at a time when they were poorly equipped for defense. Today, Ashraf Ghani is hopeful that Afghanistan, with a huge army of 400,000 soldiers, the support of the international community and air force capability will have a different fate. Kabul is totally different and developed compared to that time, with airports, universities and colleges, a government structure with a vibrant media and thousands of political and social workers and millions of working women – all of whom will never accept the Taliban resuming their old practices.
Yousafzai adds that the Taliban have the capability to surge their insurgency but to capture Kabul – or the hearts and minds of its people – would be an entirely different matter.
“Hypothetically if the Taliban captured Kabul and on the second day, if 10,000 women staged a protest demo against them, would they be able to simply shoot them? The Taliban lack any manifesto or plan to run Afghanistan’s affairs. In a far more developed Afghanistan, the dream of capturing total power is impossible” Sami concludes.