While all eyes are set on Afghan peace parleys in Doha, Afghan authorities lambasted the Taliban for failing to actively participate in peace talks seeking to end the country’s long-running war. Following months of deliberations and a first round that failed to achieve any major breakthrough, the Afghan government and Taliban are meeting again in Qatar but so far only discussing the agenda for round two. Afghan president Ashraf Ghani evinced his disappointment by stating that the talks are going at a snail’s pace, accusing the Taliban of not having a clear vision and added that there was no change visible in them.
Since the beginning of the talks, Kabul is pushing for a permanent ceasefire and to protect governance arrangements in place since the ouster of the Taliban by a US-led invasion following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. But since the second round of talks began on 6 January in Doha there has been no significant announcement about how negotiations were proceeding. The talks have been marred by a surge in violence, with a recent spate of high-profile killings of officials, judges, journalists and activists leaving the war-weary country reeling. Both the Taliban and the Afghan government are anxiously awaiting the new administration to take office so that any new policy directions are received from the incoming administration.
Taking a horrible turn the violence in Afghanistan witnessed gunmen shooting dead two Afghan women judges working for the Supreme Court during an early morning ambush in Kabul. The attack on the judges took place as they were driving to their office in a court vehicle. There are more than 200 female judges working for the country’s top court. Afghanistan’s Supreme Court was a target in February 2017 when a suicide bomb ripped through a crowd of court employees, killing at least 20 and wounding 41. In recent months, several prominent Afghans — including politicians, journalists, activists, doctors and prosecutors — have been assassinated in often brazen daytime attacks in Kabul and other cities. Afghan officials have blamed the Taliban for the attacks, a charge the insurgent group has denied. Some of these killings have been claimed by the rival jihadist Islamic State group. Earlier this month the US military for the first time directly accused the Taliban of orchestrating the attacks.
The targeted killings have surged despite the Taliban and Afghan government engaging in peace talks in the Qatari capital of Doha. The Taliban carried out more than 18,000 attacks in 2020 and the incidents are growing in number. Two members of an Afghan militia opened fire on their colleagues in western Herat province, killing 12 in what police described as an insider attack. It was reported that the attackers fled with the slain militiamen’s weapons and ammunition though Afghan government forces regained control of the area. A Taliban spokesman in a tweet claimed responsibility for the attack. Meanwhile, a sticky bomb attached to an armoured police Land Cruiser SUV exploded in the western part of Kabul killing two policemen and wounding another.
Around the country, journalists, human rights workers, moderate religious scholars and civil society activists have been picked off as they go about their daily lives, often blown up in their cars. The UN and Afghanistan’s independent human rights commission have both documented sharp rises in these kind of attacks compared with 2019. The steady drum beat of killings has cast a shadow of fear across the country, even as the government and the Taliban are meant to be hammering out a peace deal, hundreds of miles away in Qatar. Many people see a connection between the two, even though the attacks have not all been claimed by the insurgents.
Many people are deeply concerned about the continued violence and consider it as a message from the Taliban warning that be prepared for our rule, be prepared to surrender and that we are coming back. It is to discourage the united struggle for democratic values, freedom of speech, education, even the enlightening side of religious scholarship. They are trying to do these attacks to create fear because their rule is fear-based. The killings also undermine already shaky confidence in the central government. It is widely believed that it is important for the Taliban to try to turn the clock back but along with it they convey the message that they can strike at anyone we want, anywhere and that the government cannot protect people.
The US says the Taliban committed to reducing attacks under the terms of a troop withdrawal signed in February. Although violence nationwide has actually increased overall since then, there has been a fall in large-scale violence in urban areas compared with previous years. Targeted assassinations are unlikely to draw US reprisals, or register much in the news beyond Afghanistan’s borders, but they have a powerful demoralising effect in Afghan cities, spreading a sense of insecurity. Fear caused by the deaths has been exacerbated by failure to investigate the murders. The family of Yama Siawash, a central bank adviser and former TV presenter, killed five days before Dayee in another car bomb, have issued an open letter threatening legal action if the government does not do more to track the people who killed him.
Amid the bloody impasse, there have been growing calls for President Ashraf Ghani to step down and a neutral interim government that includes the Taliban to take over. Calls for an interim government have grown since Afghan and Taliban negotiators reconvened for talks in Qatar. Those calls came as U.S. envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad visited Kabul where he held talks with senior Afghan officials and key power brokers to gauge their support for an interim government but Ghani did not meet with the U.S. diplomat.
The two aspects of the proposal are to include the Taliban in the present government and to merge this government with the Taliban but both of these options were not found acceptable for the international community so the third option was to establish an interim and inclusive government. Ross Wilson, the most senior US diplomat in Kabul, denied that Washington had advocated for the creation of an interim government. However, the proponents say that transitional authority could pave the way for a political settlement including the future distribution of power and changes to the constitution.
Despite denying it officially, the idea was floated privately by US officials and has been supported by the Taliban, Pakistan and some Afghan opposition figures but the proposal is deeply controversial and has been strongly rejected by Ghani and his allies. Supporters of the idea say it would stop the escalating violence and allow the warring Afghan factions to reach a settlement, given the Taliban’s refusal to recognise Ghani’s administration. But critics describe it as premature and a risky ploy that could trigger chaos and state collapse. Opponents say the idea is being pushed by opposition figures who want to gain a stake in power.
A political settlement is a key part of the US-Taliban agreement signed in February 2020 that is aimed at ending the war. That deal calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces in Afghanistan by May in return for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which is to negotiate a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing arrangement with the internationally recognised government in Kabul. However, it is unclear if President Biden, will stick to the deal. TW