A surge in violence has intensified after the Istanbul conference on Afghanistan was postponed. The Afghan warring parties blame each other for escalation in violence. The Afghan Special Operation Corps recently claimed that over the past 24 hours Afghan security and defense forces killed at least 57 Taliban militants, including their commanders, in Badghis, Ghazni, Kandahar, and Maidan Wardak provinces.
On the other side, Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, claimed that 12 government forces were killed in fresh Taliban attacks in the provinces of Paktika, Logar, and Ghazni.
Some experts who are familiar with the context of the Afghan conflict say that the Taliban militants would continue to fight on the battleground so that the group gets more concession on the power-sharing table. Abbas Farasoo, a researcher who closely follows the Afghan war and peace, says that the warring parties in Afghanistan would continue to use violence as a bargaining chip. “The Taliban want a full American withdrawal so they can have an upper hand in both war and negotiations.”
The postponement of the Istanbul conference marks a setback in the Afghan peace process. Concluding a one-day trilateral meeting in Istanbul on Friday, April 23, foreign ministers of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey urged the Taliban to return to the negotiating table and resume peace talks, a call was responded with violence.
Talking to Fox News a week ago, the US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said no one knew what would happen inside Afghanistan after the US withdrawal completed. “No one can offer guarantees about Afghanistan’s future after US troops leave.”
The US administration appears committed to continuing diplomatic efforts to garner regional and international support for the Afghan peace process. But some experts are of the opinion that the lack of an internationally unified consensus on Afghanistan’s reconciliation is a major challenge ahead of the Afghan peace process.
Omar Sharifi, a university lecturer, believes the lack of a unified approach at the regional and international levels towards the Taliban is the main hurdle against a fruitful peace negotiation. The Taliban militants, backed by Pakistan, are fighting to occupy more territory across the country. “A military option is the only option,” he said as highlighting that military option is the only tool through which the Afghan government and its international backers can put pressure on the Taliban insurgency to join the peace talks.
After the announcement of the US withdrawal, President Ghani expressed doubt over Pakistan’s intention if the country honestly supported peace efforts in Afghanistan.
“Now it is time for Pakistan to choose what it will opt for regional cooperation, international partnership, and regional prosperity,” Ghani said as quoted by TOLOnews. Pakistan will descend into instability if Afghanistan becomes unstable, Ghani warned.
The Afghan reconciliation process is slowly moving on a bumpy road as the Afghan government still appears divided when it comes to a political settlement with the Taliban. Earlier in April, the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) finalized a final draft of a peace proposal out of more than 20 proposals set forth by different Afghan political factions to be proposed at the Istanbul conference. It was, however, followed by a strong objection made by the Second Vice President Sarwar Danish – who is a key figure in Ghani’s bloc – saying that the finalized proposal would not represent an inclusive Afghanistan at the Istanbul conference. The draft peace plan prepared by Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) will divide the Republic camp, he noted.
Jawid Kohistani, a military commentator, who appears to be close with HCNR camp, told Kabul Now that stubbornness by some figures within the government highlights a war scenario for Afghanistan. “Afghanistan might slip into a civil war despite efforts made by different countries and national [political] forces. The Taliban will not stop their war but will intensify it, and the southern regions will probably collapse more rapidly than the northern and central regions,” he warned.
Describing Ghani’s governance approach as ethnic-oriented, he said that such an approach towards the Istanbul conference will become a big hurdle. “Upon the withdrawal of US forces, Afghanistan will plunge into civil war” while the Afghan defense and security forces have a very limited capability to defend Afghanistan’s major cities. In the newly created situation, as he put it, a resistance front will be shaped against the Taliban in which the current government will not have any role.
Afghanistan will descend into chaos if the path to a peaceful reconciliation is abandoned.