Analysis

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    Foreign-imposed Afghan dispensation at play

    9 March 2021

    In a strongly-worded letter – rife with a sense of Trump-like urgency – addressed to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has intrinsically advanced a Taliban’s rhetoric: the establishment of an interim formation, major constitutional overhaul, and reckless compromise on the gains made over the past 20 years. Interestingly, Blinken, to covertly dictate compliance with the new U.S. proposal, holds the Taliban’s potential territorial gains in Afghanistan over Ghani’s head.

    Against all expectations, the letter’s language could be construed as the U.S. administration willingly handing over Afghanistan to the Taliban. This is even though the Biden administration has said the Taliban have not lived up to their commitments to reduce violence and cut ties with extremist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Continuing the trend of concessions to the Taliban, the letter hints at fulfilling the seemingly Taliban demand of getting President Ghani out of the way.

    Primarily seen as appeasing the Taliban yet again, it’s a fundamentally-flawed suggestion to go for a regime change because if there is to be a Bonn-like conference led by U.N. in Turkey with Taliban participation as suggested by the letter, why was the insurgent group excluded in the first place in 2001? If Bonn-produced current system is to be rooted out, what guarantee exists that this newly proposed dispensation would be any different?  One would say it’s retrogression to the past, which means the 20 years of achievements mean nothing, and this long-shot approach is being undertaken at the expense of undercutting and undermining the incumbent system. Nevertheless, if a Bonne-like conference guarantees sustainable peace and preserves the rights of people to elect their leader, there is no harm in convening such an assembly. If this gambit doesn’t achieve that outcome, staging such conferences will push us two decades backward and compel us to start everything from scratch.

    Against the backdrop of the stalled peace talks and steady levels of violence exacting toll on Afghans, a revised U.S. strategy was expected from the new U.S. administration. Still, the letter coupled with the proposals floated by the U.S. envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has a theme of coercing peace in Afghanistan, regardless that it says, “We do not intend to dictate terms to the parties.” As the U.S. underwrites most of the Afghan government’s machinery, the country has taken a colonial-type tactic at best to intrude the details of constitutional affairs and future power-sharing arrangements in the country.

    The letter could serve the U.S. in two ways: Extending its presence beyond May through the 90-day reduction in violence suggestion (which is very unlikely when it comes to the Taliban) or using it as an exit tool while blaming the Afghan sides for not being able to accommodate the proposals and work out a peace deal in the rushed timeline that they have set forth. Meanwhile, the biggest blunder in the letter seems to be the U.S. warning that even if America provides financial assistance to Afghan security forces, the Taliban may topple the Afghan government in the absence of a peace deal. This coming from a US SOS is very unusual unless there is a planned strategy to hand over Afghanistan to the Taliban and Pakistan by getting Ghani out of the way. The notion that Afghan security forces can’t suppress the Taliban is exaggerated and is the same rhetoric the anti-government elements promote. It doesn’t make sense when it comes directly from American partners who should shoulder the Afghan security forces in the global war against terrorism.

    Rather than holding the Taliban up to their commitments because they continued the violence and remained mostly absent from talks since January as they indulged in trips to countries, the U.S. administration underestimates the Afghan security forces. Notably, Afghan National Defense and Security (ANDSF), 272,500 strong as per International Institute for Strategic Studies, are responsible for providing security across the country. However, support from the U.S.-led international military is still vital to win the war against the Taliban and global jihadists.

    Moreover, the Taliban have used the violence as leverage in the peace talks in Doha, deliberately dragging out negotiations while awaiting a decision by President Biden on the May 1 troop withdrawal. There has only been a tactical change from targeting urban centers to untraceable violence of the insurgent group – targeted attacks and unclaimed VBIEDs. From 10,041 civilian casualties in 2019 to 8,820 in 2020, it seems there hasn’t been a significant decrease according to UNAMA figures. Meanwhile, the last quarter of 2020 has been the deadliest for civilians because as many as 2,792 casualties were recorded. By the same token, the Afghan Peace Watch’s RiV-monitoring initiative has documented 820 civilian deaths since the start of intra-Afghan talks on Sept. 12, with IEDs and assassinations topping the list – each killing 287 and 194 people respectively (35% and 24% of the total).

    Considering the circumstances and the complexity of Afghanistan’s quagmire, this hastiness is not the proper way to reinvigorate the talks because the Taliban are being rewarded with back-to-back concessions, more power and international recognition. Also, it’s improbable that the Taliban would agree to some of the suggestions, too, such as accepting the election or removing their military structures from neighboring countries, especially Pakistan. In sum, foreign-imposed systems have never worked in Afghanistan. The new proposal is not less than an imperialist attempt by the U.S. America, as Afghanistan’s partner, needs to deeply ponder its decisions to avoid taking us all back to square one in the wake of continuing sacrifices rendered by Afghans, whose dreams about peace are being shattered.

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    Afghanize the peace talks!

    16 December 2020

    While negotiators are on a pause from intra-Afghan talks until the fifth of January, a timely and essential matter of shifting the talks home has become one of the hot-button issues. Proposed by the Afghan government and endorsed by the Senate, this move, if observed, will provide a chance to make the talks truly Afghan-owned and Afghan-led.  The Taliban were quick to scorn the calls for this proposal. However, for building upon the recent breakthrough of the procedural rules’ finalization, choosing a venue for the talks within Afghanistan entails multiple benefits. The three-week break from the talks gives the negotiators ample time to contemplate and ponder over this positive change in the course of talks. 

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    Violence kills 5,411 since the start of IAN

    12 November 2020

    After exactly two months since the start of direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, violence in Afghanistan has taken 5,411 lives and has wounded 3,561 people, including civilians, the Afghan military and the militants. Through RiV-monitoring we have independently documented 8,972 casualties from Sept. 11 to Nov. 11. The war in Afghanistan still remains one of the deadliest active conflicts in the world and takes nearly one hundred lives every day. Considering the conflict on the ground, the peace talks seem to bear no fruit and the war seems far from ending.  

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    What does the Biden presidency mean for Afghanistan?

    9 November 2020

    The outcome of the US Presidential election has been earnestly anticipated as it affects the whole world, not least Afghanistan. As the results came in, Joe Biden won the White House and put an end to a tumultuous four-year term of Donald Trump. The polls have closely been watched by global states because all of them hold a stake in it, one way or another. For Afghanistan, a lot here is dependent on what is going on in U.S. politics. Such a drastic change has a direct impact on the situation here. Afghanistan is on the verge of a historical transition despite the recent spikes in violence as the warring sides are engaged in direct talks — something unprecedented in the past two decades of war. The U.S. engagement in Afghanistan is dubbed as the longest U.S. military intervention ever and almost everybody in America: the republicans, the democrats, and the ordinary Americans seek an end to this U.S. war in a country far away. But a responsible end to the military intervention is much more necessary than a hasty withdrawal that would jeopardize the achievements made in Afghanistan in the post-2001 period, for both Afghanistan and the U.S.

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    Responsibility for Kabul University attack remains mysterious

    4 November 2020

    The Afghan government, the Taliban and the Daesh militant group are at odds on who was behind the deadly Kabul University attack that drew ringing denunciation from different quarters. On Monday, three armed insurgents attacked the Kabul University, killing 22 students and lecturers and wounding 27 others.

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    Reduction in violence: A lethal grey area

    13 October 2020

    The sluggish peace talks ongoing in Doha of Qatar have seemingly hit a snag that the negotiating sides refuse to acknowledge and are trying to put a positive spin on the lag that is proving deadly for Afghans. In the meantime, the situation on the ground in Afghanistan is gravely worrying.

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    Beware of ghost attackers! The spoilers of peace

    12 September 2020

    A breakthrough, historic one indeed, came on Thursday when both sides into the Afghan conflict confirmed the intra-Afghan talks would be launched on Saturday (today). The issue holding back the landmark talks was the release of the remaining six controversial inmates of the Taliban but they were said to have been shifted to Doha and thus the way paved for the peace talks. In the run-up to this milestone, Afghanistan has been witnessed to a spike in the trend of targeted killings, most likely perpetrated by the spoilers of peace, aimed at sabotaging the peace process. However, neither the Taliban nor any other militant or terrorist group claims credit for them. Now, the question is who would indulge in such nasty designs and who benefits the most if those designs are successful?

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    Say yes to truce!

    8 September 2020

    The big hurdle blocking the long-anticipated, landmark intra-Afghan talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government was lifted as the controversial prison release process was brought to an end last week. However, small glitches still remain that need to be dealt with. For instance, the Taliban claim not all of their prisoners are released whereas the government says it’s all ready to start negotiations but is waiting for the insurgents because the ball is in their court now. Meanwhile, in the run-up to the intra-Afghan talks, the fighting is raging unabated as the insurgents are worried about losing grip on their foot-soldiers if they give up violence, signaling their distrust on the peace process and bringing under question their resolve in terms of making peace.

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    Petty wrangling steering peace towards limbo

    1 September 2020

    Turbulent developments in terms of peace risk undermining the whole process in one way or another, particularly political wrangling regarding a key national phenomenon as peace is something that could prove detrimental.

    In a decree issued on Saturday, President Ashraf Ghani announced the appointment of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) members, including Jihadi leaders and key government officials. But the nominations have drawn stringent criticism from HCNR Chairman Abdullah, who deemed the presidential decree infringement of his authority. He got the message across that establishing the council did not require a presidential decree based on the power-sharing deal signed in May between President Ghani and Chairman Abdullah. Moreover, former president Hamid Karzai, named as a member of the HCNR, excused himself of participating in a government formation of any sort. Following his suit, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Salahuddin Rabbani also refused to accept the membership of the peace council. These are indeed some worrisome episodes in the peace process.

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    Reconciliation council with shortcomings

    30 August 2020

    In a major development in the Afghan peace process, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has named 48 members for the formation of the High National Reconciliation Council (HNRC) through a presidential decree. The council mandated with taking peace talks ahead with the Taliban is part of a power-sharing agreement signed in May between President Ghani and Chairman Abdullah Abdullah, who leads HNRC. The decree comes as the peace talks have hung in the balance for a while now due to differences over prisoner release despite Abdullah recently saying that the intra-Afghan talks would begin by the end of this week but it wasn’t long before the Taliban rejected that possibility altogether. Forming the council is a positive development and something that would help the snail-paced peace process but it, however, has many shortcomings. First and foremost, the inclusivity as a key principle isn’t taken into consideration.