No end in sight to deadly violence
Peace is a casualty in Afghanistan as the conflict deepens with the US and Taliban digging into their respective entrenched positions.
US President Donald Trump, who announced last year that he would not pull out troops from the country, sent in more military and stepped up aerial bombardments.
Over the past year, the Taliban carried out ferocious armed attacks on civilians including in heavily-guarded locations in Kabul like the January 22 attack on the Intercontinental followed a week later by the massive blast involving an ambulance laden with explosives that exploded on a busy road near foreign embassies and government offices, and killed nearly 100 people.
On February 15, the UN published its annual report on civilian casualties – one of the most reliable indicators of how the war is going since both the US and Afghan governments now release fewer figures. The report said that at least 10,453 civilians had been killed or injured in 2017.
With no side in the war ready to give up arms, the bloodletting shows no signs of ending and hopes of peace have never been so bleak in Afghanistan.
Political analyst Karim Pakzad believes, "The current standstill is an ideological standstill because we are on the one hand faced with Taliban – their position has hardened – and on the other hand we are faced with Donald Trump who has followed the same behaviour."
Afghan commentators and experts studying the government's security policy feel it is drafted by Washington. The policies of the palace (president's office) are written by the White House, says Hamida Ghaleb. Policy has always been influenced by the strategy of the government's foreign supporters and now it decides national priorities, she adds.
Before Trump, his predecessor Barack Obama supported the policy that saw the Taliban open a political office in Doha in order to find a solution to the conflict. He also supported the decision to free many Taliban leaders in jail in Pakistan. Also two rounds of meetings were held in Pakistan with the representatives of Taliban, Afghan government, the US and China.
The current problem is that Taliban have more demands than in the past because they can see the Afghan government is weak and riven with differences between members. In addition, the Taliban know US forces cannot always be either present or ready to rush to the aid of the Afghan military. Pakzad points out that the Taliban who accept only talks would yield a permanent solution insist on a complete withdrawal of US troops as a precondition.
This precondition was ignored at one time but the situation has changed with Trump's coming to power. Changes in US policy regarding Pakistan and Taliban have hardened the latter's position.
The equation has changed to one where as war spreads and the flames burn more people, peace becomes inaccessible and the future dark.
For the Afghan military a fight untill victory is a hollow slogan because among the enemies are also unknown forces. Afghanistan is faced with both insurgents and mafia – smuggler gangs that do not have roots inside the country but are from beyond the borders. Political commentator Naweed Elham says, "Insurgency can be defeated only by satisfying insurgents by widening the scope of economic and welfare projects that will give jobs to the army of jobless youth who otherwise could join the ranks of the government's armed opponents." Big international mafia can be eliminated through regional cooperation, Elham adds.
Pakzad, a political analyst, also insists on the need for talks with insurgents to find a lasting solution to war in Afghanistan. "All agree that there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. NATO has not been able to defeat the Taliban despite spending huge military budgets. Eventually, it had to pull out its forces under the guise of a strategy to hasten a solution but that has still not made any headway."
Afghanistan's foreign supporters are not willing to spend more than 100 billion USD every year on the country. Afghanistan, the neighbour of Iran, Russia, China and Pakistan, has been the door into the region for Washington and the reason for generals around Trump advising the president to keep troops in the country.
More than in the past Afghanistan is linked with the destiny of countries in the region, and no solution would be possible without involving all its neighbours in the peace process.
Most experts believe in a regional framework and partnership of neighbouring countries for peace in the country. At present the US is not willing to share influence and is against any partnership with Russia in talks.
On January 17, Sergey Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, addressing the UN Security Council, called for immediate and direct talks between the Afghan government and Taliban. But only a few hours later, Washington claimed Moscow does not have a role. The US has accused Pakistan, Russia, Iran and China of interfering in Afghanistan.