Afghanistan has seen unprecedented increase in violence Post signing of the Peace Agreement with heavy civilian casualties.
By BRIG N K BHATIA
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took everyone by surprise in ordering switch from “active defence to “offence” against the Taliban, last Tuesday following the cowardly attack on a maternity hospital in Dasht e Barchi area of Kabul killing 24 innocents including women and children. Simultaneously another attack in Helmund on a funeral procession led to scores of civilian deaths. The Afghan National Security and Defence Forces (ANSDF) who had till now been in a defensive mode in their actions against the Taliban are now likely to launch fresh operations against Taliban to challenge free run that it had enjoying following the 29 February Peace Agreement between US and Taliban. The presidential order removes the ambiguity that ANSDF had faced so far of restrained actions against an adversary that had continued its onslaught on the ANSDF at cost of heavy casualties.The decision has been welcomed by General BismillahWaziri, the Afghan Chief of Army Staff and others who had been watching the situation from sidelines having been restrained to launch any offensive operations against the outfit.
Afghanistan has seen unprecedented increase in violence Post signing of the Peace Agreement with heavy civilian casualties. Very significantly Taliban has denied any role in unleashing of violence in Afghanistan. To the contrary ISIS has been claiming responsibility for all the violent attacks although US had claimed that ISIS capability had been diminished after relentless operations against the outfit. No clear reasons for unleashing violence by ISIS or its affiliates have been forthcoming so far.
US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad in response to the attacks stated that; “The United States Government has assessed ISIS-K conducted the horrific attacks on a maternity ward and a funeral earlier this week in Afghanistan. ISIS has demonstrated a pattern for favouring these types of heinous attacks against civilians and is a threat to the Afghan people and to the world”.
The US openly attributing the attacks on ISIS and absolving Taliban should be seen in the backdrop of legitimising rebirth of Taliban and engaging with it at cost of Afghan Unity Government led by President Ashraf Ghani. The US relied heavily on its Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad to deliver an exit plan from Afghanistan, who in turn solely built upon Taliban to deliver peace in Afghanistan, in the process legitimising the authority of Taliban. Any violent action in Afghanistan attributed to Taliban would therefore adversely reflect upon US approach to resolve the conflict.
A stalemate in Afghan Presidential election process and discord among two main claimants to the political mantle of Afghanistan had worsened the confusion giving belief to US and Taliban that they could pull through the Peace agreement without the involvement of the Afghanistan government in the agreed time frame; ten days for prisoner swap followed by an Intra Afghan dialogue and withdrawal of US troops in a time frame of 14 months.
At the outset the Peace Agreement had run into trouble with President Ghani refusing to the release of Taliban prisoners. In response Taliban withdrew from ‘fruitless’ talks with a negotiation team threatening the process. This had forced Mr Khalilzad to launch fresh efforts to put the talks from derailing including a visit to the region.
In the meanwhile violence continued in Afghanistan with footprints of Taliban deeply entrenched on the modus operandi and ability to strike at will. This put the freshly sworn President in a precarious position and threatened his legitimacy to lead the country in the face of the challenge posed by Taliban, who refuse to negotiate with his government.
The sudden change of Afghan response to Taliban actions took everyone by surprise including all regional parties who called for restraint from the Afghan government, since most regional countries had opened contact with the Taliban.
The latest directions of President Ghani to launch offensive stem from an assertion of authority and confidence to take the challenge of Taliban head-on and show his relevance in a country where the writ of state runs weak with multiple power centres pulling it in opposite directions.
Over the last few weeks President Ashraf Ghani has managed to consolidate his position and grip over the government to run affairs of the nation. This was set off after official results declared him the winner in a fiercely fought elections, which was opposed by Mr Abdullah Abdullah who in turn declared himself as the winning candidate. The bitter political contest saw two parallel Presidential candidates were sworn in with the US and other nations throwing their weight behind Mr Ghani.
Over a period of two months the two sides seem to have resolved their differences with likelihood of an agreement and establishment of a High Council of National Reconciliation with Mr Abdullah Abdullah ceding the position of President to Mr Ghani in return for legitimacy to remain relevant in the state of affairs and have his say in governance.
The Agreement with various political opponents will also bring in legitimacy to positions of General Dostum and a few other prominent leaders drawn from other political factions such as Mr SallahuddinRabbani who represent other ethnic factions and had been sulking on the sidelines.
With Mr Ashraf Ghani consolidating his hold with major stakeholders being on board provides him with the confidence to be firmly in control of the situation and launch offensive and take on the challenges posed by Taliban which refuses to accede to his legitimacy.
Most importantly it is also a message to the USA and others to stop undermining the authority of Afghanistan government in the roadmap for peace and stability of the country.
(The author is Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal.)