Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Wednesday, May 27th, 2020

Civilians Bear the Brunt of Militancy

In the last round of intra-Afghan dialogue in Qatari capital of Doha, the Taliban said they would seek to reduce violence and civilian casualties, but their recent indiscriminate attacks inflicted heavy casualties on civilians, including children.
On the surface, commitment to decreasing civilian casualties seemed a great achievement in the intra-Afghan dialogue, but the Taliban could not fulfill their promise and targeted civilians. This issue filled the public air with mistrust and disappointment.
In one of my commentaries, I pointed out that much optimism about the positive outcome of peace talks was not based on facts. Peace talks are likely to be a pyrrhic victory for Afghan nation and will not yield fruit forthwith. The Taliban’s war strategy is to target civilians so as to put pressure on the government. The Taliban’s statements at the peace table and their contrary acts of violence in the ground suggest that there is lack of agreement between the Taliban’s political office and their military commanders. The Taliban rank and file tend to continue their violence and bloodshed and are unlikely to follow the instructions from political office.
A surge in violence shows the Taliban’s lukewarm response to ceasefire. They do not pursue negotiations genuinely. After all, Afghans fear that the Taliban will not respect the agreement if they reach at the peace table since they broke their promise for decreasing civilian casualties. Hence, the level of mistrust has increased to a great extent.
If the Taliban and their negotiators reach an agreement, the international community and Afghanistan’s international allies have to monitor the Taliban’s practices to ensure that they respect the agreement.
CEO Abdullah Abdullah said it was the time for the direct talks between the Taliban and the government. He is cited as saying, “If the Taliban say that they want peace, then they must come to us to reach an agreement. It is not possible that Taliban say they want to reach agreement with the US and NATO but not with other side.”
Refusing to hold talks with the government, which is being fought against, will prolong the conflict. The Taliban group is fighting against the government but negotiating with the US. On the contrary, regional states and Afghanistan’s neighboring countries reiterated the intra-Afghan dialogue or “Afghan-led” talks. And they urge the Taliban to sit around the table with the Afghan government.
In a personal interview, Dr. Zeng Xiangyu, Professor in the Institute of South Asian Studies at Sichuan University of China, said, “An Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process is the real solution. This judgement is not based on a negotiation-preference or anything associated with idealism. On the contrary, this is based on the hard and often unpleasant ground reality.” He added, “Military operations as was in the past one and half decade, failed to settle the issue. Then how can the same tactic succeed in the next few years, let alone without the support of a very strong foreign military force?” He said, “I have no idea on how to operationalize the peace talk as I understand it is much easier said than done, and more importantly, this must be an Afghan-led process instead of something imposed from outside.”
Both warring sides agree that military deal has reached stalemate and the two sides are able to resolve their issues only through dialogue. But the Taliban still continue their militancy, which only leads to casualties and destruction.
The Taliban once said that they did not seek to monopolize the power after reaching an agreement. It implies that they will be integrated in the government. It is possible only after holding direct talks with the government.
To stop civilian casualties, warring sides have to seek an immediate ceasefire, which could build trust and generate optimism among the public. Declaring ceasefire would also show the Taliban’s genuine intention for talks.
It is self-explanatory that targeting civilians, which is a war crime, will further compound the challenges. It is not in the interests of warring parties, mainly the Taliban, to carry out indiscriminate attacks. Targeting civilians will intensify the public anger and hatred against the Taliban. Since warring sides had vowed not to target civilians, they have to keep their promise.
The US and Afghanistan’s neighboring countries need to put pressure on the Taliban to declare ceasefire if they really intend to stop civilian casualties and come to the table with genuine intention. The war-war and talk-talk strategy seems confusing and will not bear the desired result.