Conflict Alerts # 71, 15 April 2020
In the news
On 8 April, the Afghan government released around 300 Taliban prisoners after the Taliban had announced 'an end to the talks' due to the delay in a prisoner's swap. On 9 April, five rockets hit Bagram, US airbase in Afghanistan. The attack was later claimed by the ISIS. The next day, Pakistan requested the Afghan government to hand over Aslam Farooqi, regional chief of ISIS for further investigation on the attack at a Sikh Gurudwara on 25 March.
On 11 April, US General Scott Miller, and Taliban leaders met in Doha to discuss the violations of the US-Taliban deal. Again on 13 April the US top negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, US commander met with Taliban leaders to discuss issues that have stalled the peace-making efforts.
On 12 April, the Taliban handed over 20 Afghan security prisoners to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Issues at large
Taliban and the Afghan government have not agreed on a timeline for the release of prisoners and the number of prisoners. In the US-Taliban deal, the parties agreed to the release of 5000 Taliban prisoners before the intra-Afghan talks that were supposed to begin on 10 March. The Afghan government cited security concerns and rejected this. Instead, it proposed a phased release of prisoners; Ashraf Ghani issued a decree to release 1500 prisoners, but it was rejected by the Taliban and insisted on the release of all the prisoners.
Taliban has been unwilling to make any concession towards the Afghan government. Taliban has made it clear that they are unwilling to negotiate on the prisoner swap and would begin intra-Afgan talks only when all the 5000 prisoners are released. Taliban also did not approve of the 15 member Afghanistan team of negotiators as it was not 'diverse enough'. Taliban continues to carry out large scale attacks against the Afghan security forces even after the deal was signed.
The US priority is to withdraw its troops after having received security guarantees from the Taliban. Pressure from the US and a threat to cut aid have forced the Afghan government to make yield to the Taliban. Afghan government and Taliban had a virtual meeting last month, and the technical team of the Taliban met Afghan officials in Kabul, but no significant progress has been made. The Taliban called the meeting fruitless and refused to engage in any further meetings.
Other radical groups like the ISIS continue to build the presence in Afghanistan and are a security threat to both the region and the US. The ISIS has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan. Pakistan has requested the Afghan government to handover Aslam Farooqi, as "he was involved in anti-Pakistan activities in Afghanistan". According to Al Jazeera, Pakistan said, the two countries should coordinate their actions against the issue of terrorism and should establish a mechanism to deal with the threat of the ISIS.
First, the release of prisoners is a positive step towards the intra-Afghan talks, which has now been delayed for over a month. However, the Taliban's position that they would not begin intra-Afghan talks until all the 5,000 Taliban prisoners are released indicates their reluctance to make any concessions with the Afghan government. Second, the pace at which the progress has been made in processes between the Afghan government and the Taliban is frustrating for the US who is eagerly waiting for the withdrawal of troops. Third, as the Taliban continues its negotiation with the US, there is a possibility of a defection of extremist elements from the Taliban, to radical groups like the ISIS.