Conflict Alerts # 139, 12 August 2020
In the news
On Friday, 7 August 2020, the Afghan President convened a Loya Jirga in Kabul to decide the fate of the remaining Taliban prisoners. While addressing the 3000 strong Jirga, President Ghani was quoted to have stated: "The Taliban have said that if the 400 prisoners are released the direct talks between our negotiating team and the Taliban will start three days later…In the meantime, they have threatened that if they are not released, not only they will continue their war and violence, but they will escalate it."
On Sunday, 9 August, the Jirga agreed to recommend the government to release the remaining 400 Taliban prisoners. Subsequently, a Taliban spokesman was quoted saying that now there is no hurdle to start the negotiations between the Taliban and the government.
On Monday, 10 August, President Ghani issued a decree to release the last batch of the Taliban prisoners.
Issues at large
First, the issue of the phased release by the Afghan government. Though there were claims about 5000 Taliban prisoners, around 4600 were released since the US-Taliban deal in February 2020. However, President Ghani was apprehensive of releasing all the prisoners; around 400 of them were imprisoned on charges of serious crimes.
Second, the issue of the Taliban's continuing violence, despite engaging the government in talks on the release of its prisoners. According to a New York Times survey (Afghan War Casualty Report: August 2020, during this month "at least 42 pro-government forces and 41 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan." Clearly, the Taliban is using violence as a strategy to pressurize the Afghan government to yield to release the prisoners.
Third, the issue of American pressure on the Afghan government to yield to the Taliban. While the Afghan government has been hesitant, there has been pressure from the US. The US pressure on Kabul is primarily due to what is happening in Washington. Trump wants the return of American troops before the start of the next Presidential election.
Fourth, the issue of pressure on the Jirga to recommend the release of the remaining Taliban prisoners. Not every member of the Jirga was on board on the decision to release. According to a New York Times report, "Many delegates said it appeared that the Afghan government had already given in to US pressure to release the remaining prisoners. The assembly, convened solely for consultation and with no executive power, was a way for Mr Ghani to share political responsibility, they said. Representatives from several committees added that they were asked to give affirmative or negative recommendations on the release of the 400 prisoners without being provided details of what the prisoners were accused or convicted of."
The release of the last batch of the prisoners has been projected as the last hurdle, in initiating a negotiation process between the Taliban and the Afghan government. And this, in turn, is expected to lead to peace in Afghanistan. Perhaps, there would be a negotiation or a façade of it. Certainly, it would not lead to peace. Only more carnage.
Taliban is unlikely to change its colour. Despite those apologists saying that the Taliban today is a changed organization, there is no evidence to provide that. Statistics on violence and the number of people targeted and killed since the US-Taliban deal in February 2020 would prove otherwise.
Taliban would not stop anything short of taking over Kabul and controlling entire Afghanistan.