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Pashtun Taliban Insurgency - 2020

More than 100,000 Afghans have been killed or injured since 2009 when the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began documenting casualties. About 34,000 Afghan civilians have been killed during that period, many of them children.

Afghan, international and Taliban forces will observe a seven-day period of reduction in violence [RIV] in Afghanistan beginning at midnight (1930 GMT), an Afghan official and Taliban leaders said on Friday 21 February 2020. The agreement was struck during protracted negotiations between U.S. and Taliban representatives that began in Qatar in 2018, and could lead to a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, they said. "Based on the plan, the reduction in violence (RIV) will start between the Taliban and international and Afghan security forces for one week," Javid Faisal, spokesperson for the Afghan National Security Advisor, told Reuters. "We hope it is extended for a longer time and opens the way for a ceasefire and intra-Afghan talks," he added.

An agreement with the Taliban would be followed by negotiations on an intra-Afghan political settlement between the Taliban and an Afghan delegation that would include government officials. Afghan forces will keep up normal military operations against other terrorist groups, such as Daesh, or Islamic State, during the RIV period.

Since signing the agreement with Washington in February, the Taliban did not attack US and NATO troops, but continued to wage war with the Afghan National Security Forces. The US and NATO also began withdrawing some troops in line with the agreement. While many Afghans saw the peace effort as the best hope for ending the 19-year war with the Taliban, some questioned how committed the militants are to reconciliation, especially after the US completes its troop withdrawal.

After the US and the Taliban in February signed a landmark agreement in Doha to end the 19-year-long Afghan war, Islamabad was hopeful that the future of Afghan politics would allow a bigger role for groups that Pakistan has backed for decades. Analysts dubbed the US-Taliban deal a blow to New Delhi, which has increased its clout in Afghanistan since the US toppled the Pakistan-backed Taliban regime in 2001. India has so far been reluctant to engage with the Taliban as it considers the group, which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, to be a Pakistan-sponsored organization. Despite US-Taliban negotiations and the Doha deal, the Taliban have continued to work closely with anti-Indian groups, particularly Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.

The imminent departure of US troops from Afghanistan could destabilize the region. The Taliban will emerge stronger. This could make India more likely, through covert means, to try to protect its interests there. And since India and Pakistan are bitter rivals, anything that New Delhi seeks to do in Afghanistan will be seen by Islamabad as a net negative.

The Taliban largely refrained from launching major attacks on Afghan cities since February, when they signed a landmark withdrawal deal with the US meant to pave the way for peace talks with the Kabul government. Under the agreement, the Taliban promised not to target forces from the US-led coalition, but made no such pledge toward Afghan troops and have stepped up attacks in the provinces. The deal will see all US and foreign forces leave Afghanistan over the next year. Thousands of US troops have already gone, with a drawdown to 8,600 expected within months.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on 12 May 2020 ordered the country's security forces Tuesday to resume offensive operations against the Taliban and other insurgent groups, following two separate attacks that killed dozens of people. "I order all the security forces to end their active defence position, return to offensive postures, and resume their operations against the enemy," Ghani said in a televised address. No group has claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attacks on a maternity hospital in the capital Kabul and a funeral in the eastern province of Nangarhar, but Ghani blamed the Taliban and the Islamic State group. "Today we witnessed terrorist attacks by the Taliban and Daesh groups on a hospital in Kabul and a funeral in Nangarhar, as well as other attacks in the country," Ghani said, using the Arabic abbreviation for the IS group.

In June 2020 Afghanistan’s security forces suffered their bloodiest week so far in the 19-year-old Afghan war. The Afghanistan's National Security Council said 291 members of Afghan National and Defense Security Forces (ANDSF) were killed and 550 others wounded in multiple Taliban attacks in the third week of June.“Taliban carried out 422 attacks in 32 provinces, martyring 291 ANDSF members and wounding 550 others. Taliban's commitment to reduce violence is meaningless, and their actions inconsistent with their rhetoric on peace,” tweeted Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the NSC. The NSC statement also said that at least 42 civilians, including women and children, were killed and 105 others were wounded in the violence Taliban committed across 18 provinces in the past week.

The intra-Afghan negotiations that Washington had hoped would begin in March 2020 had been delayed by the reluctance of Kabul to release Taliban prisoners. Thousands of prominent Afghans approve the release of about 400 death row Taliban prisoners. The resolution recommending the release of the prisoners was passed on 09 August 2020, at the end of a three-day loya jirga, a traditional Afghan meeting of tribal elders and other stakeholders sometimes held to decide on controversial issues. "In order to remove the hurdles for the start of peace talks, stopping bloodshed, and for the good of the public, the jirga approves the release of 400 prisoners as demanded by the Taliban," jirga member Atefa Tayeb announced.

Negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban kicked off in Doha on 12 September 2020. The talks were expected to start in March after the United States and the Taliban signed a landmark agreement in Doha, Qatar , on February 29. But the Afghan government and insurgents sparred over the modalities of a countrywide ceasefire and the release of Taliban prisoners.

The two sides had completely different expectations from the talks. For the Taliban, the hope is a deal that will grant them a large degree of power within a political system that may be significantly different than the current one. For Kabul, the hope is to have a deal in which the Taliban holds only some power, within a democratic system.

The Afghan government side will come to the table seeking a ceasefire. It is a wish that has the support across the Afghan political class as well as in Washington, and one that can help build trust and strengthen peace prospects if agreed to by the Taliban. The Taliban, however, will be in no hurry to agree to a ceasefire, given that it derives so much leverage from violence. The ceasefire issue is a clear disconnect that will be an early challenge in the intra-Afghan dialogue.

The Taliban had previously refused to talk to the Afghan government, calling it a US "puppet" regime. Instead, the insurgents opened a dialogue channel with Washington through their political office in Doha. Afghan officials were not involved in the US-Taliban negotiations. US officials, however, made it clear that the insurgents must engage with Kabul after finalizing a deal with them.

It was clear that the Taliban had the upper hand in the Doha talks. But the Afghan government believed it was the legitimate representative of the Afghan people, having been elected through democratic elections. The question was: will Kabul be able to force the Islamists to work within the democratic framework? Does the Taliban truly have an incentive to try to secure partial power through talks, rather than to try to secure total power by force by returning to the battlefield and aiming to overthrow the government? The more the US talks about bringing troops home, the more leverage it gives to a Taliban organization that already has a strong incentive to simply wait the Americans out, and return to the fight once US forces have left altogether.

Some 70 countries on Tuesday pledged $12 billion (€10.1 billion) in assistance to Afghanistan at a donor conference in Geneva, Switzerland. It is a substantial sum for the war-torn country, which depends on foreign aid to survive. But there are some strings attached to this international aid – the most crucial being the Afghan government's commitment to ongoing peace negotiations with the Taliban militant group. To secure the financial aid, Afghan authorities need to ensure that the talks taking place in Qatar's capital Doha with the Taliban yield results. However, it does not depend entirely on them; the Taliban had proven to be a difficult stakeholder and have not agreed to a nationwide truce to make the talks successful. The peace talks condition imposed by donor countries in Geneva could increase pressure on President Ashraf Ghani's government to give more concessions to Islamists. After all, it is the Afghan government that needs the international money, not the Taliban.

Afghan government and Taliban representatives said on 02 December 2020 they had reached a preliminary deal to press on with peace talks, their first written agreement in 19 years of war and welcomed by the United States as a chance to halt the violence. The agreement laid out the way forward for discussion, and was considered a breakthrough because it would allow negotiators to move on to more substantive issues, including talks on a ceasefire, even as Taliban attacks on Afghan government forces have continued unabated. "The procedure including its preamble of the negotiation has been finalised and from now on, the negotiation will begin on the agenda," Nader Nadery, a member of the Afghan government's negotiating team, told Reuters. The Taliban spokesman confirmed the agreement. "A joint working committee was tasked to prepare the draft topics for the agenda (of peace talks)," a joint statement from both sides said.

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Page last modified: 24-06-2021 17:48:17 ZULU