Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, January 18th, 2021

Afghans Expect Violence-Free Year

Last year was really bloody for the people of Afghanistan as scores of civilians and soldiers were killed in the wake of the Taliban’s intensified attacks. Afghan people and their representatives called on the Taliban on multiple occasions to decrease violence and cease conflict, but the Taliban have refused so far. The Doha agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban could not either end the conflict.
The second round of intra-Afghan dialogue has begun with the start of 2021, but violence still continues unabated. To facilitate agreement and push for a positive outcome, Afghanistan negotiating team sat at the table to persuade their Taliban interlocutors to declare truce before any other issues are discussed.
The process seems thorny from the start as head of the Taliban negotiators Mawlavi Abdul Hakim Haqqani did not travel from Pakistan to Doha, Qatar’s capital, perhaps to signal his discontent over an issue, which is likely to undermine the process.
Meanwhile, ambiguity is also a thorny challenge in the peace talks. The Taliban persisted on forming a “pure Islamic system”, adding that they would respect women’s rights in the framework of Islamic Sharia, which are vague to people. In his latest interview in national media, Taliban political spokesperson Mohammad Naeem Wardak said that Islamic system meant a “corruption-free”, “independent” and “free” government. Such general remarks – which do not elaborate on the rights and freedoms of women, democratic values, constitutional principles, and past achievements – compound one’s confusion.
Ibraheem Bahiss, an independent research analyst, is cited as saying that the Taliban are pursuing two tracks simultaneously: violence and negotiations.
“Their aim is to get into power and have a particular type of government system,” he said. “Whether they achieve it through talks or through fighting, both entail costs they are willing to bear.”
The differing priorities of the two negotiating sides could challenge the process to a great extent. For example, the Afghan government sees an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire as a main priority, while the Taliban group does not. The group believes it can gain more by violence than in talks and, if it agrees to truce, it will be hard to maintain its leverage.
The two sides have shared proposals on the agenda of the talks but no agreement has been made on what topics would be prioritized.
Since Afghans bore the brunt of violence within the last few years, mainly last year, they cherish prospect for ceasefire. Last year fatalities were extremely high. At least 429 pro-government forces were killed in September, and at least 212 civilians were in October – the worst tolls in each category in more than a year.
On 17 December, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, warned the US Security Council that “violence has skyrocketed in the country. In the last few months, improvised explosive devices caused over 60 percent more civilian casualties and child casualties rose 25 percent over previous periods.” Targeted assassinations have also intensified.
With this in mind, Afghans are highly frustrated with the increased violence and bloodshed, ongoing amid the peace talks. People expect reduction in violence and years void of bloodshed. Naeem said that the Taliban were “genuine in talks”. If so, they have to stop killing Afghan soldiers and civilians and declare a permanent ceasefire.
Afghans are apprehensive about the ambiguity of peace process and conflicting views since the talks are held behind closed doors. Despite having trust in the government negotiating team, they still fear imposition of the Taliban’s mindset on their representatives since the Trump administration pushes for an agreement regardless of the outcome. Backdoor talks about their rights and freedoms and their destiny are concerning. Negotiators and their spokespersons have to be approachable to the media and speak clearly and honestly.
In 2021, Afghans should not suffer from escalated violence. Since ceasefire, which is also stressed by international community and global stakeholders, is the public demand, the Taliban have to agree on it so that the ground is paved for signing peace pact. If the Taliban leadership could not persuade their fighters and military commanders to stop violence, peace talks will be derailed and Afghans will be filled with unmitigated hatred against the Taliban.
It is important to note that if Afghan Ulema Council and clerics, who have condemned the Taliban acts of terror and violence several times, issue fatwa of Jihad against them and call on each Afghan man to fight against their militants, the Taliban will suffer the horrible consequence and an embarrassing defeat.