No respite from Afghan violence

US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad was in Pakistan to discuss the fragile Afghan peace process amid increasing violence in the war-ravaged country. The Trump administration wants to secure a peace deal before the presidential elections later this year.
There has been an escalation in tensions between the Afghan Taliban and security forces just as Khalizad started a new round of negotiations in Doha. At least 29 members of the Afghan security forces were killed in Taliban attacks over the last weekend. Earlier the Afghan government claimed to have killed 51 Taliban fighters. There have been regular clashes, including last weekend when security forces tried to access the site of a US military jet that crashed in the Taliban-controlled territory.
The surge in violence is hampering the Afghan peace process even though it was reported that the Taliban had agreed to stop attacks against US forces and reduce assaults on Afghan forces. According to a report, violence in Afghanistan jumped to a record level in the last quarter of 2019. There were 8,204 attacks between October and December last year alone.
Kabul and other urban areas have not seen any large-scale bomb attacks in the past two months which is unusual for a city prone to terror attacks. Even US forces are responsible for the surge in violence as they dropped more bombs last year than any other period in the last ten years. The US dropped 7424 bombs on targets in 2019, and despite the ongoing talks there have been regular skirmishes.
Khalilzad’s visit seems in regard to convincing the Taliban to agree for a ceasefire. The US has been calling on the Taliban to reduce violence for several months now. Khalilzad met with the Army Chief and thanked Pakistan’s efforts for facilitating the peace process. Khalizad realises it is best to discuss the situation with the military leadership knowing that they hold considerable sway over the Afghan Taliban.
The US-Taliban peace agreement seems closer than ever now to end the long-standing conflict. The Taliban’s gesture to scale down attacks is a significant development. The next step would be a complete ceasefire, end to hostilities, and finalisation of the peace treaty paving the paving for intra-Afghan talks. This is where the peace deal would be unraveled and the pitfall exposed due to uncertainty in the country.
Given the bitter memories of the Taliban’s iron-fist rule in the mid-1990s, it is unlikely that Afghan leadership will accept the Taliban as a political force. This may cause a fresh power struggle as the Taliban’s conservative and archaic worldviews have not changed much over the years.
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