Afghan peace process in disarray
President Trump is tasting the real power these days. Taliban have the military prowess to attack the places of their liking at the timing of their choosing. In the diplomacy domain, Taliban dictate the venue and agenda. And when they meet Americans, they field Guantanamo hardened Taliban negotiators to stare in the eyes of top American diplomats. Of late, peace talks between Taliban and US officials were cancelled over agenda disagreement. Senior Taliban members based in Afghanistan said “both sides have agreed to not meet.” Three meetings have already taken place between Taliban leaders and US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the UAE took part in the last round of talks in December. Reports last month about US President Trump’s plans to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan has triggered uncertainty. However, Afghan peace process is in disarray.
Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah has said that Taliban’s refusal to involve the Afghan government in peace talks means that end to the Afghan conflict only remain a dream. Taliban called off a fourth round of talks with US officials in Qatar scheduled for Jan 09, over disagreements about the involvement of Afghan officials, a possible ceasefire and prisoner exchange. Earlier Taliban had declined to attend this round of peace talks with the US in Saudi Arabia; they wanted to shift the venue to Qatar to offset Riyadh’s likely pressure to include the Afghan government in talks.
Taliban have all along rejected Kabul government’s offer for direct talks, despite growing international pressure. Taliban insist on first reaching an agreement with the United States, which the group sees as the main force in Afghanistan. But the United States has insisted that any final settlement must be led by the Afghans. “However, we have made it clear to all the stakeholders that we will not talk to the Afghan government”, Taliban spokesperson told Reuters. “The problem is that leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates wanted us to definitely meet the Afghan government delegation, which we cannot afford to do now, and we have cancelled the meeting in Saudi Arabia,” spokesperson added. President Ashraf Ghani’s Special Representative on Regional Affairs for Consensus on Peace, Omar Daudzai, visited Islamabad to resolve the impasse.
Taliban have warned the US that it would face the same fate as the Soviet Union in the 1980s if it did not leave Afghanistan. In a message sent on the anniversary of the “Take heed from the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan and abandon thoughts of testing the mettle of the already proven Afghans,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said. He added that any future relations between the Taliban and the US should be based on “sound diplomatic and economic principles” rather than conflict.
According to data from Resolute Support mission published in November, the government of President Ashraf Ghani has control or influence over 65 per cent of the population but only 55.5 per cent of territory, less than at any time since 2001. However, Taliban claim that they control over 70 percent of territory. As moves toward peace making pick up in Afghanistan, Taliban are making deliberate effort for image makeover. They realise that they are now a vital part of the solution. Taliban are trying to show that they have changed since the 1990s: “If peace comes and the Taliban return, then our return will not be in the same harsh way as it was in 1996,” Zabiullah told Reuters. “We want to assure Afghan nationals that there will be no threat to anyone from our side. Our opposition is with the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan. Once they are out and a peace deal is reached, then a nationwide amnesty will be announced,” he added. “No one, police, army, government employees or anyone, will face revenge behaviour from our side.” We are not against women working in government organisations or against their outdoor activities, but we will be against the alien culture clothes worn by women, brought to our country,” Mujahid went on to elaborate.
Many Afghans have learned to live with the chronic pain of war. One estimate puts the number of conflict-related deaths at more than 40,000 during 2018, almost equal to the combined body count for Syria and Yemen. However, that pain does not stop them from pursuing a “normal” life.
Taliban fighters killed more than 21 Afghan security forces in simultaneous raids on a provincial capital and district in northern Afghanistan and wounded another 23 on the first day of New Year. Hundreds of Taliban were outside Sar-e-Pul city, which provincial governor’s spokesperson Zabihullah Amani said was at risk of falling to the Taliban if reinforcements were not sent. A government security official said that reinforcements had been deployed and dismissed concerns about the town falling to the insurgents. Taliban confirmed the attacks, saying their fighters had captured three checkpoints and killed or wounded 50 members of the security forces. This is random sampling of numerous such battles which go on, every day, throughout Afghanistan. As a matter of routine, cities and towns keep exchanging hands between insurgents and occupation forces.
In diplomacy domain, at regional level, Taliban representatives have recently met with Iran, as Tehran makes a more concerted and open push for peace ahead of a possible US drawdown. Taliban delegation discussed with Iran “the post-occupation situation, restoration of peace and security in Afghanistan and the region”. It signals growing confidence among the Taliban that the US troops will pull out of Afghanistan.
Occupation forces, however continue with their high handedness towards Afghan population. Mujib Mashal’s report for the New York Time’s International Edition on Jan 02, captioned “Afghan Units led by CIA leave trail of abuse”, stated: At a time when the conventional Afghan military and police forces are being killed in record numbers across the country, the regional forces overseen by the CIA have managed to hold the line. But “such units have also operated unconstrained by battlefield rules designed to protect civilians, conducting night raids, torture and killings with near impunity”, in a covert campaign that some Afghan and American officials say is undermining the wider American effort to strengthen Afghan institutions. “Tactical successes have come at the cost of alienating the Afghan population. Those abuses are actively pushing people toward the Taliban”.
United Nations reports have expressed concern about civilian deaths and “consistent, credible accounts of intentional destruction of civilian property, illegal detention, and other abuses” by these CIA led units. Civilian deaths hit a record high in the first half of 2018, which was also marked by some of the deadliest suicide attacks since the start of the war. American defence officials in Washington say the “CIA operations in Afghanistan are largely opaque to military generals operating in the war zone”. And “as American military forces are set to draw down, the role of the Central Intelligence Agency is only likely to grow in importance”.