Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, September 24th, 2020

The Tortuous Path of Counter-Terrorism

The  war on terror was launched in Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attack on World Trade Center complex in New York City. US forces took a military action as a backlash against the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies. The operation was very serious that the Taliban could hardly find sanctuaries inside the country. The Tora Bora, which was allegedly used as Taliban’s sanctuary, was under heavy bombardments. Ultimately, the Taliban regime was overthrown.
It was only the start of the long story. The Taliban reactionaries resurfaced with radically religious beliefs to launch jihad against the foreign troops in Afghanistan. They regrouped as an insurgency movement to the American-backed Karzai administration and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Militancy broke out seriously leading to human casualties – including Afghan civilians – and the country was moved towards higher instability. Gradually, the country retrogressed to the time of Taliban’s regime. Violence, bloodshed and terrorist acts were making the daily story. According to the United Nations, the Taliban and their allies were responsible for 75% of Afghan civilian casualties in 2010, 80% in 2011, and 74% in 2013 which included the deaths and injuries of more than 8,600 civilians in 2013 – 14% increase. Terrorism loomed large and changed to a serious issue for Afghan and US forces.
The hope of Afghan people, who were imaging Afghanistan as utopian country after the fall of Taliban’s regime, crumbled. They were largely falling victim to terrorist acts and the country rather changed to a dystopian place. The ugly face of horror and terror exhausted Afghans to a large extent. The war on terror did not seem serious and aroused people’s mistrust.
To establish a democratic government, the first presidential election was conducted in 2004. Large number of people participated and the ballot boxes were filled to bring democracy in the country. But was democracy established?
Indeed, ballots could not dominate bullet. The nascent democracy was being threatened by Taliban and Al-Qaeda armed militants. Terror persisted continuously and the graph of casualty tolls mounted day by day.
Afghan government decided to hold negotiation with the Taliban militants as a strategic mechanism to end terrorism. Former Afghan President Karzai called on the Taliban multiple times to join the peace process. In late 2008 he even offered to provide security for the Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Omar, if he agreed to peace talks – this was not incentive enough.
The High Peace Council was established in 2010 and tasked with contacting the Taliban and convincing them to join the peace process. The members of High Peace Council (HPC) were making efforts days and nights in pursuit of brining Taliban’s leaders to the table of negotiation. However, all the efforts and energies met failure repeatedly. In spite of the government’s efforts focused on re-integrating Taliban fighters, they did not have a reconciliation strategy.
Sporadic and informal contacts were made with a number of Taliban leaders but the members of the Taliban who made contacts with Karzai administration were assassinated in Pakistan, which ended the process.
Finally, the head of Afghan High Peace Council, Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, was assassinated at his home in Kabul on 20 September 2011, by two men posing as Taliban representatives. The suicide bomber claimed to be a Taliban commander and said he wanted to “discuss peace” with Professor Rabbani. Four other members of HPC were also killed in the blast. The Quetta Shura, which is the leadership of the Afghan Taliban hiding in the affluent Satellite Town of Quetta in Pakistan, was blamed for the incident by Afghan officials.
This incident enraged Afghan officials, especially former president Hamid Karzai, and drew severe condemnations. But their anger did not last long.
On June 18, 2013, Taliban opened an office as the first move towards peace deal after 12-years of fighting, but it enraged Afghan President by styling itself as an unofficial embassy for a government-in-exile. Karzai raised his concerns about the peace process not being Afghan-led. He suspended plans for Afghan officials to meet the Taliban in Qatar. His concerns were so great that former US Secretary of State John Kerry had to promise that the Taliban flag and their sign reading “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” would be removed. But the flag remained, albeit on a shorter flagpole.
The US then President Barack Obama administration supported peace talks with the Taliban after the US-led forces lost ground against the militants across Afghanistan.
This issue stirred up tensions between Kabul and Washington. The Afghan government reacted to the move, saying it contradicted the security guarantees the US had given it.
However, Trump administration started negotiations with the Taliban group in Qatari Capital of Doha, and the two sides are close to signing a deal, which will be conductive to talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. There are still concerns and the outcome of the talks still ambiguous.
In short, the peace process inflicted heavy costs on Afghan nation and state, but it is yet to come to fruition.