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Afghanistan: war and peace

Over two months into the much hyped peace deal between the US and Taliban, violence in Afghanistan shows no signs of abating. On May 12, a maternity ward in Kabul was attacked by gunmen killing 16 people including new-born babies and mothers. The brutality of this attack was a reminder to the rest of the world that even amidst a global pandemic, there will be no respite from violence for the Afghans.

On February 29, Taliban and the US signed a peace agreement in Doha according to which all US and Nato forces would be withdrawn from Afghanistan within 14 months, marking an end to the 18-year occupation of the country. Other salient points of the agreement included a guarantee from the Taliban that they would not threaten US security and would cease all violence, and negotiations between Taliban and the Afghan government. While the deal was lauded by the US government, the Taliban and the Pakistani government with hopes that it may usher in an era of peace in Afghanistan, others were less optimistic.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, expressed reservations about the release of 5000 Taliban prisoners as one of the conditions specified in the peace agreement. Other quarters including US-based analysts and human rights groups shared serious concerns regarding the status of Afghan women under a Taliban-inclusive rule. One of the major aspects of reconstructing Afghanistan included an effort by foreign governments and international organisations to elevate the condition of women in Afghanistan after they had suffered immensely and been restricted to their homes by the Taliban.

Although Afghanistan still fares amongst the worst countries in the world when it comes to women’s rights and gender equality, and despite conservative social norms and backlash from extremist factions, there was an increase in women’s participation in civil service, politics and the labour force during the occupation. The current peace deal does not take any guarantees from the Taliban that they would not go back to their inhuman treatment of women. Some analysts and commentators were sceptical about the Taliban’s commitment to peace owing to a long history of violated ceasefires and futile negotiations.

Whatever the stance regarding the peace deal, it is clear that reaching an agreement with the Taliban, who control a large territory of Afghanistan, was the only way forward for the US to ensure an end to the longest war it has ever fought. The US government’s patience to sustain the cost of war was running thin as multiple military strategies tried over the years only made temporary gains. At its peak, the US had 100,000 troops on Afghan soil, over 2400 UAmerican soldiers have lost their lives in combat, and the economic cost of war in Afghanistan has been estimated to be about $1trillion.

American leadership, including President Trump, has time and again expressed frustration and fatigue at the never-ending war, so it is safe to say that the US needs this peace deal to work every bit as much as, if not more than the Taliban do. Attacks like those on May 12 and on a Sikh temple earlier in March threaten the peace dialogue between the Afghan government and Taliban, which is already on frail ground owing to disagreements regarding prisoner release.

The Islamic State’s offshoot in Afghanistan took responsibility for the Sikh temple attack, the hospital attack on May 12 and the deadly attack on a funeral in Nangarhar on the same day, while the Taliban denounced and denied their involvement in the hospital attack. The US State Department, in its official condemnation of the attack noted that the Taliban had denied responsibility and urged the Afghan government and Taliban to negotiate towards a peaceful future for Afghanistan. This statement is in stark contrast with the Afghan government’s reaction to the violence.

Following the attacks on Tuesday, President Ashraf Ghani announced in a televised address that his government would launch offensive strikes against the Taliban because they have continued to escalate violence in the country and have not encouraged other terrorist groups to cease their activities. Clearly, the government sees the Taliban as the primary terrorist threat, directly or indirectly linked to all violence in the country, which seriously jeopardises the future of peace talks.

The truth is that the world has become accustomed to the suffering of Afghans and images of brutal terrorist attacks, even those that target babies, only temporarily appeal to global conscience. Afghans have been dehumanised as a people and stereotyped as a ragtag bunch addicted to war. This narrative is most eagerly propagated by people and states who have had an active role in making Afghanistan a cesspit of violence. All states party to the peace agreement must ensure that there is no compromise on the safety of the Afghan people.

The Afghan government and the Taliban need to negotiate and form a united front to fight the IS and all other terrorist groups that are active in Afghanistan. The US and regional states, most importantly Pakistan, need to share responsibility to rid Afghanistan of terrorism because an unstable Afghanistan has never been and will never be in Pakistan’s interest. It is not going to be easy as there is deep mistrust between all stakeholders involved in the process.

The Taliban may not be in complete control of all of their commanders and fighters and the Afghan government may never be ready to compromise with them – but things will need to be figured out because the Afghan people cannot continue to pay the price of other countries’ national interests and their own state’s inability to protect them. Negotiations between the government and the Taliban are the country’s best bet for now because any other scenario would entail endless fighting between the two parties and more bloodshed.

Naurah Khurshid, "Afghanistan: war and peace," The News. 2020-05-17.
Keywords: Political science , National interest , Military strategies , Global pandemic , Peace process , Social norms , Economic cost , Terrorism , Leadership , Afghanistan , America