Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, April 13th, 2021

Civilian Casualties Surge with Elusive Peace

The “war on terror” has been highly costly for the United States and Afghan nation. Countless number of soldiers and civilians were killed, but peace still remain elusive notwithstanding the agreement signed between the Taliban and US representatives last year.The decades-long war has led to the death of tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and US, NATO and Afghan soldiers, and cost upwards of £760bn. Yet the Taliban are on a roll, the intra-Afghan dialogue failed to bear the desired result, and there is.
The Costs of War project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs estimated two years back that the war on terror has cost Americans a staggering $5.6 trillion since 2001, when the US invaded in Afghanistan. It meant that Americans spent $32million per hour, according to a counter by the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Gen Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in 2009-10, demanded big troop increases, telling former US President Barack Obama, “We are going to win”. Briefing journalists in Kabul in 2009, he said better training for an expanded Afghan army was the key to success.
Nonetheless, Obama’s troop “surge” proved abortive and Washington declared to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan before reaching an agreement with the Taliban.
Afghan civilians bore the brunt of violence. In 2019, 3,804 civilians were killed in the war, according to the United Nations. That is the most in one year since the UN began tracking casualties a decade ago.
Since 2001, more than 775,000 US troops have been deployed to Afghanistan, many repeatedly. Of those, more than 2,300 died here and 20,589 were wounded in action.
This year, violence is at record levels and Afghan soldiers and civilians still sustain heavy casualties on day-to-day basis. The Taliban continue their attacks indiscriminately and show no flexibility. The Taliban still feel no mercy on civilians, including women and children. The graph of civilians’ death, including journalists, media activists, civil activist, is very high.
The collective indifference to such slaughter is highly outrageous. Despite the heavy casualties of Afghan men and women, the international community simply play the role of observer. That is, the international community has not put pressure on the states supporting the Taliban network and their affiliates and also put pressure on the Taliban leadership to declare ceasefire.As result of the Taliban’s unmitigated militancy, the intra-Afghan dialogue was stalled and the talks are unlikely to bear the desired fruit. The Taliban are most likely to seek concessions at the negotiating table through intensifying their attacks against the Afghan soldiers and civilians.
The United States believes that Pakistan has enough influence on the Taliban to persuade them to stop attacking Afghan soldiers and civilians for at least as long as the peace talks continue. Both Kabul and Washington want Islamabad to use its leverage to help end war in the country.
On the other hand, Pakistani officials have promised on several occasions to support the Afghan peace process. In 2019, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, on one of his trips to Washington, promised Trump to meet the Taliban to talk regarding Afghan peace process. Moreover, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said several times that Islamabad would support the Afghan peace process. However, his statements will be viewed with doubt in Afghanistan unless Islamabad proves its sincerity in practice.
It is believed that the Taliban are unlikely to win the war through targeting civilians. In other words, killing civilians will be counterproductive. The Taliban killed civilians for the last couple of decades in their guerilla fighting, which has simply increased the public hatred against them.
Since the war on terror has been highly costly for both the United States and Afghanistan, the two are unlikely to compromise the achievements, made in the last two decades, at the peace table despite the Taliban’s intensified attacks. Moreover, Afghans will continue their sacrifices but would not accept the radical practices the return of Islamic Emirate in its former format. The Taliban should reduce their violence, at least against civilians, and have to respect the international humanitarian law.As Moscow is preparing to hold a conference at international level to push the peace process forward, a number of political figures do not view it with enough optimism. They believe that it will neither lead to reduction in violence nor support the process to move a step forward. It is because Russia hosted the Taliban delegation multiple times but no changes emerged at all. I personally believe that, if this conference is held not with the intention of giving international credibility or recognition to the Taliban, it will be a positive step.