Even eight months of a peace process pushed by the US, the intra-Afghan talks have not only not yielded results but failed to check violence in the war-torn nation
Even eight months of a peace process pushed by the US, the intra-Afghan talks have not only not yielded results but failed to check violence in the war-torn nation. The most unbelievable and vulnerable spots -- maternity wards in hospitals, educational centres -- have been attacked with impunity, killing dozens of people each time.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghan reconciliation, is once again in South Asia trying to bring the recalcitrant parties to the negotiating table. Referring to the attack on the Kabul University this Monday, Khalilzad said: "The terrorist perpetrators are not just against education but are pro-ignorance. They want to breed chaos and instability, terror and poverty. They oppose and fear peace and seek a permanent state of war."
The attack on the university claimed the lives of at least 22 people and injured at least 20, leading the Afghan government to declare Tuesday a national day of mourning. This was the second attack on an educational institution in just a week. On October 24, a suicide bomb attack at an educational centre in Afghan capital Kabul had killed at least 30 people and injured 60. Most of the dead included boys and girls between the age of 16-18.
Besides attacks on students, the numerous militant groups in Afghanistan -- many supported and sheltered by the Pakistani government and its army, have indulged in an orgy of violence on a daily basis against both -- the Afghan armed forces as well as civilians.
Violence continues relentlessly despite the Afghan government and the Taliban talking face-to-face in a historic session on September 12 at Doha, Qatar. With the US pushing the Taliban and the Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani, and Qatar hosting the talks, it took months of active American cajoling to bring the two parties to the negotiating table. The US wants different Afghan groups to resolve their differences among themselves so that it can extricate itself and its allies out of Afghanistan by year-end. It has already pulled out many soldiers from the country.
More than six weeks have passed after the face-to-face talks in September but the two sides are yet to decide on a roadmap or agenda for another meeting to bring peace to the war-torn country. Two factors stick out here -- stopping attacks was a precursor to the talks and this has not happened as the Taliban has on the contrary increased attacks in a bid to weaken the government to gain an upper hand. The second is that the Taliban and the government are not on the same page on many issues including the status and role of women, sharing of power and the extent of modern governance in the future government. Negotiators from the two sides have met a number of times to finalize the agenda for another face-to-face meeting but have not agreed on all points.
The intra-Afghan talks were supposed to start in March this year but squabbling between the Taliban and the government over the release of prisoners delayed the talks. Moreover, the Afghan government itself had major differences with power struggle between Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah -- now the head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, which is leading the intra-Afghan peace talks with the Taliban.
Besides the US, Pakistan is an important player in the talks as it holds considerable leverage with Afghan militant groups. Whenever American officials are in the region, they make it a point to visit Islamabad to ensure that both -- the Pakistan government and its army -- support the peace process in Afghanistan.
The US pullout, which will create a power vacuum in the Af-Pak region provides, Pakistan an opportunity to control the strings in Kabul through a Taliban-led government. It has already brought China into the picture by facilitating China-Taliban talks in Islamabad. By forging China-Taliban linkages, Pakistan hopes to increase its geopolitical clout in Kabul. For China, a friendly government in Kabul through Pakistan will ensure two immediate benefits -- extension of the Belt and Road Initiative's (BRI) flagship project -- the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) into Afghanistan, as well as ensure that Islamic militants on Afghan soil do not link up with the Ughyur Muslims.
Death and devastation, despite an all-round push for talks, has not gone unnoticed. Just three days back, the Afghan government had said that violence in the country has spread to 28 provinces out of the total 34. Showing his dismay, Khalilzad observed: "Afghans are dying at a high rate, and regional spoilers are using Afghans as cannon fodder for their illegitimate objectives. Afghans need to pivot to development instead of destruction, stability instead of chaos, forgiveness instead of vengeance, compromise instead of inflexibility."
With the government and the Afghan defence forces vowing to retaliate against all terror attacks, the Taliban -- despite the Pakistani support -- may not find it easy to have its way through violence. Meanwhile the people on the street, particularly women, fear for the future.
(Under an arrangement with indianarrative.com)