Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 100, 3 June 2020

Violence in Afghanistan: Deadly mix of bombings, peace process, prisoners' release & US withdrawal
D Suba Chandran

In the news

Last week was bizarre within Afghanistan. While the Afghan government and the Taliban moved ahead with releasing the prisoners, there was a series of violence across the country. Taliban owned a few attacks, while the Islamic State also claimed one.

Outside Afghanistan, a UN led report claimed that the Taliban has been in touch with the al Qaeda and the leaders of both organization met more than six times, while it was also in touch with the US in Doha.

Issues at large

First, the violence within. Last Thursday (28 May 2020) attacked a security checkpoint in eastern Afghanistan, killing 14 military personnel. The Taliban took responsibility for the attack.

On Saturday (30 May 2020), the Islamic State targeted a bus carrying employees of a local TV station in Kabul. The New York Times quoted an IS release accusing the employees as "loyal to the Afghan apostate government." On the same day, there was another roadside bombing in Kabul. Elsewhere outside Kabul, in Maidan Wardak province, there was an attack on a convoy, that resulted in killing seven, including a woman and three children. In Parwan province, three more children were killed in a mortar firing on the same day. Last Saturday was a deadly one for Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, (1 June), a bomb exploded in a mosque in Kabul, killing the cleric and two more people, besides wounding the others. On Wednesday (2 June) in Kandahar province, nine passengers were killed in a bomb attack on a bus.

Second, the prisoners release between the government and the Taliban. While the Taliban was attacking the security outpost last week, its delegation was in Kabul negotiating the release. It appears the Taliban is negotiating the release on the one hand and targeting the security forces on the other hand. The only other explanation could be – there is a section within the Taliban that is targeting, while the other negotiating. This is less likely.

Third, the American naivety. On Monday, in between the attacks in Kabul and elsewhere, the US Special Envoy to Afghanistan, who was the brain behind the deal between the US and the Taliban made an interesting statement: "We are in a good place…We are optimistic that finally we're moving forward to the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations." (New York Times, I June 2020). Who is in a good place, and who moving forward to start intra-Afghan negotiations?

Fourth, is the duplicity of the Taliban, as nailed by a report published by a UN Committee early this week. According to the report, now available in the public domain, the Taliban was in touch with the al Qaeda leadership and met them at least six times, when they were engaging the US in a dialogue at Doha. One of the crucial components of the US-Taliban deal is that the latter cut its linkages with al Qaeda. The Trump administration perhaps wants to believe that. Naivety.

In perspective

Taliban is winning the game. The US is losing it and in the process is pulling the Afghan government into it. The transfer of prisoners would not have happened without the Americans pressurizing and arm-twisting the Afghan government.

The US wants to withdraw. Especially Trump. Because he wants to showcase the withdrawal as a success before his elections. And in the process, he will undermine most of the achievements that the previous American administrations have made, under tremendous pressure and extreme sacrifices. Trump and Khalilzad are not only letting down those brave Afghans but also those Americans who believed and sacrificed their lives for a secular, democratic and liberal Afghanistan.

D Suba Chandran is Professor and Dean at the School of Conflict and Security Studies in National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) He heads the Conflict Resolution and Peace Research Programme at NIAS. 

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