Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 376, 12 May 2021

Afghanistan: A week of violence, Taliban's three days ceasefire and the mirage of peace
D. Suba Chandran

In the news
On 08 May, in a targeted massacre on the girl children, three bombs placed in front of a school killed more than 80 people, with most of the victims in their teens. The attacks took place in a Shia neighbourhood in Kabul; the School was having classes in two separate shifts for the girls and boys. Though the Taliban denied its involvement, President Ashraf Ghani has blamed the militants. According to a statement from the US State Department: "This is a pivotal moment for the Taliban and Afghan leadership to come together and take responsibility for the future of their country."

On 10 May, the Taliban announced a three days ceasefire for the Eid al-Fitr; depending on the sighting of the moon, the Taliban ceasefire, according to news reports, will start either from Wednesday or Thursday. The Taliban ceasefire was aimed at celebrating Eid; according to its spokesman Suhail Shaheen the ceasefire aims at the following: "to provide a peaceful and secure atmosphere to our compatriots ... so that they may celebrate this joyous occasion with a greater peace of mind." However, on the same day, there was an IED attack on a bus in the Zabul province that killed 11 people.

Also, on the same day, on 10 May, a meeting in Brussels amongst the foreign ministers of the EU discussed the nature of Europe's presence and support to Afghanistan. The Washington Post quoted the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stating: "After the terrible attacks of recent days, it is all the more important for the EU to make very clear that Afghanistan and the Afghan government can continue to count on Europe's support…We will continue to make available sufficient funding for civilian reconstruction, and we will do everything we can so that the ongoing peace negotiations reach a conclusion." However, last week, the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell was quoted to have stated: "The decision has been taken and what we have to do is to face the situation that is going to be created…The violence in Afghanistan is increasing, and it's clear that once the US will withdraw, the European Union troops will not be able to stay."

On 6 May, a journalist who was earlier a presenter with the Tolonews, and associated with the Finance Ministry's media office, was killed in a targeted assassination. A Taliban spokesman was quoted to have issued a warning against the Afghan journalists to face the consequences for providing "one-sided news in support of Afghanistan's intelligence."  On 07 May, the New York Times, in its regular casualty report on Afghanistan, referring to the previous week (30 April-06 May), said: "At least 140 pro-government forces and 44 civilians were killed in Afghanistan the past week, the highest death toll in a single week since October."

Issues at large
First, the surge in violence amidst the US troops withdrawal. Whether the massacre on the children is perpetrated by the Taliban or the Islamic State, it highlights the state of peace in Afghanistan, especially in Kabul. The targeted assassination of the journalist this week also highlights the efforts by the militants to silence the media.

Second, the responses from Europe and the US. It clearly shows that post-withdrawal, the international support is likely to be limited to expect that both the parties – government and Taliban reach an agreement amongst themselves.

Third, the Taliban ceasefire. One should not read too much into it. Perhaps, it is an exercise to ward off any negative publicity out of the attack on the School. Even otherwise, the statement from the Taliban spokesman clearly says that the ceasefire is aimed at the Afghan people celebrating Eid, than a part of political negotiations vis-à-vis the government.

In perspective
Despite statements from the US and Europe, the future of the Afghan population is now left to themselves to defend. And it looks bleak, especially for the minorities – the Shias and the women. Second, despite the ceasefire announcement, the Taliban is unlikely to engage with the government. Its announcement should be seen as a public relations exercise, than a political roadmap.

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