Militants stormed a maternity hospital in Kabul on Tuesday, killing at least 24 people, including newborn babies, mothers, nurses, and a police officer. On the same day 100 miles away in the eastern province of Nangarhar, a police commander’s funeral was targeted by a suicide bomber killing at least 26 people and wounding another 68.
Though the Taliban denied responsibility for both attacks, the Afghan government blamed the Taliban for the attack. President Ashraf Ghani, responding to the horrific attacks, ordered the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces (ANDSF) to go on full offensive against the Taliban insurgents. ANDSF were in the so-called “defensive” posture since the US-Taliban agreement was signed last February. "The Taliban have not given up fighting and killing Afghans. Instead, they have increased their attacks on our countrymen and public places," Ghani said.
According to US Forces in Afghanistan spokesperson Col. Sonny Leggett, all three sides –the US, the Afghan government, and the Taliban--had agreed to reduce violence by 80% to pave the way for intra-Afghan peace negotiations.
But despite this, a significant surge in violence was seen over the last three months. The insurgents have been emboldened by the deal that gave them many concessions. From signing the agreement up until now, more than 4,500 attacks--averaging 55 per day--were reportedly conducted by the Taliban militants.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad made an effort to save the fragile peace deal from collapsing. But the two horrific attacks have already endangered the peace process. "The Taliban and the Afghan government should cooperate to bring the perpetrators to justice,” said Pompeo in a statement on Tuesday,” As long as there is no sustained reduction in violence and insufficient progress towards a negotiated political settlement, Afghanistan will remain vulnerable to terrorism.”
A stark difference could be seen in the stance of the United States and Afghan government regarding the ongoing peace deal with the Taliban. The US government-- desperate to bring its troops back to the country-- wants the peace deal to happen under any circumstances. The Afghan government considers the Taliban insurgents as strategic assets of Pakistan and so is suspicious of any Taliban pledges to renounce violence. The Taliban leadership is still based in Pakistan, and this is where they train, strategize, and launch operations that target Afghanistan.
For the Taliban insurgents, the agreement is an end of occupation. They claim to be victorious for pushing out the US troops after 19 years of fighting. For the Taliban, as long as they don’t hit the US or foreign troops, there are no major consequences for their continued attacks.
Afghanistan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib, tweeted "the attacks of the last two months" show that the "Taliban & their sponsors do not and did not intend to pursue peace. If the Taliban cannot control their violence, or their sponsors have now subcontracted their terror to other entities -- which was one of our primary concerns from the beginning -- then there seems little point in continuing to engage Taliban in 'peace talks.'"
The intra-Afghan negotiations were supposed to commence on March 10, but were delayed due to disagreements between the Afghan government and the Taliban over the release of 5,000 Taliban inmates, and internal political squabbling between President Ghani and former CEO Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.
If not managed, the current situation—in which violence might further increase-- could derail the already fragile peace process. The Doha agreement has emboldened and legitimized the Taliban.
One case is that last week US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad asked for New Delhi’s direct engagement with the Taliban on its concerns on terrorism.
Another case is the Special Envoy of the Foreign Ministry of Iran reaching out to Mullah Baradar, the Taliban political deputy, in order to “share information about the recent tragic incident occurred on Iranian border,” according to the Taliban’s spokesman.
Changing the situation in favor of the Taliban makes a long-term peace deal difficult. For the peace talks to succeed, commencement of the intra-Afghan negations and certain confidence building measures are imperative. This requires an accelerated prisoner release and immediate ceasefire. As long as there is communication and talks, the way could be paved for trust building, resulting in a peace deal.
About the author:
Ahmad Shah Katawazai is the member of the Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan and former Diplomat at Afghan Embassy Washington D.C. Mr. Katawazai has a master degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University and a masters in International Legal Studies from American University. Katawazai is a published writer. You can follow him on twitter @askatawazai.