Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, February 22nd, 2020

Targeting Civilians Outrageous and War Crime


Targeting Civilians Outrageous and War Crime

Civilian casualties continue unabated as the Taliban fighters and Islamic State group continue their hit-and-run strategy. Militant fighters seek to put pressure on the Kabul government through killing civilians, which outrages the public conscience.
Within the last 18 years of conflict, the Taliban have been widely engaged in killing non-combatants, including women and children. Their terrorist activities put the public rights and freedoms at stake. A large number of Afghan civilians have been killed and amputated as a result of the Taliban’s indiscriminate attacks and suicide bombings.
With the emergence of the IS group, civilian casualties increased. The IS fighters emerged with more radical ideology and practices so as to generate further fear and disappointment in public air. In addition to targeting Shiite ethnic minority group, the IS fighters also carried out indiscriminate attacks killing scores of individuals, regardless of their ethnicity. The Friday blasts at a mosque in Nangarhar province, which killed and wounded dozens of people while offering prayer, is likely to be carried out by IS fighters but there is also a possibility for the Taliban’s involvement. However, some believe that the Taliban were behind the attack – despite the Taliban’s refusal – arguing that they hardly claim responsibility for attacks which lead to heavy civilian casualties so that the public anger is not triggered against them. The Afghan government has also blamed the Taliban for the attack.
Both the Taliban and IS fighters are actively operating in parts of Nangarhar, which shares a border with Pakistan in the east.
Afghans have constantly called on the Taliban leadership to stop violence against civilians and talk with the Kabul government so as to find a negotiated settlement. Meanwhile, Afghan representatives also urged the Taliban in Loya Jirga, held before presidential election, to reduce violence and negotiate with Ghani administration. Nonetheless, the Taliban turned a deaf ear to the public demand and continued their hit-and-run strategy.
Afghans hoped that peace talks between the US and Taliban leadership would put an end to the 18-year-old conflict in the country and broker talks between the Taliban and Kabul. However, it was called off by US President Donald Trump for unclear reason. The draft agreement which came close to be signed by the Taliban and US officials last month would not result in ceasefire.
It is self-explanatory that the Taliban fighters have never observed the humanitarian law. They killed thousands of people within the last 18 years, to not mention those who were killed during the Taliban regime (1996 – 2001). Afghan civilians bore the brunt of terrorist activities carried out by the Taliban fighters. A report released by the UN said that 1,174 people had been killed and 3,139 wounded in Afghanistan’s conflict between July and September.
Despite continuing peace talks with their US interlocutors, the Taliban leadership declared their spring offensive and intensified their attacks against Afghan soldiers and civilians. The Taliban targeted civilians to put pressure on the Kabul government. Moreover, the Taliban fighters chose to fight from residential houses to put the blame of civilian casualties on the government and trigger public anger against Afghan soldiers.
It is important to note that the Taliban are unlikely to gain concessions or put pressure on the government through targeting civilians. Moreover, targeting holy places such as mosques as well as worshippers amount to war crime. The Taliban fighters, even prior to the emergence of the IS group, carried out such attacks earlier. In other words, the Taliban have not only targeted worshippers but also clerics. Since the Taliban are unable to justify their attacks on holy places and worshippers, they tend to deny the responsibility.
The Taliban outfit has both ideologue and mercenary fighters. Suppose their ideologues consider the sacred and the profane, their mercenary fighters will not care such issues.
The Friday blasts drew strong national and international condemnations. Condemning the attack, the European Union said that it aimed to undermine hopes for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. Indeed, it will be interpreted as the Taliban’s lukewarm response to peace talks and generate disappointment. It will also further the public mistrust in the Taliban.
The Taliban should either come to the table with genuine intention or face the consequences. It seems a trick that they, on the one hand, signal for peace talks, but on the other hand, intensify their attacks against combatants and non-combatants.

Hujjatullah Zia is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan and freelance writer based in Kabul. He can be reached at zia_hujjat@yahoo.com

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