GP Insights # 356, 16 May 2020
The attack on a Kabul maternity hospital on 11 May saw the death of 24 people including new-born babies and mothers resulted in the Afghan government ordering a resumption of offensive operations against the Taliban.
The US blamed the Islamic State for the horrific attack and has reiterated its commitment to the deal with the Taliban.
What is the background?
First, the deal between the US and the Taliban. According to the agreement signed on 29 February, the US will withdraw several forces by 15 July, with all foreign forces likely to follow and leave by the end of 2021. The deal was celebrated by the Trump administration that championed it as an effort to bring home its foreign troops.
Second, the difference between the Afghan government, the US and the Taliban. The deal was between the US and the Taliban; the Afghan government has been apprehensive about the Taliban holding to the deal. The Afghan government and the Taliban have argued over prisoner release, a condition stated in the agreement which promised the release of 5,000 prisoners. The Taliban had rejected President Ashraf Ghani's call for ceasefire citing disagreement over prisoner release and have continued to fight. Lack of progress on the terms of the peace agreement has led to immense pressure on the Afghan government which is experiencing a political crisis.
Third, the continuance of violence in Afghanistan, the slow process towards the intra-Afghan dialogue and the political crises in Kabul. The deal has not ended violence within Afghanistan, as recent attacks since February would highlight. The intra-Afghan dialogue between the government and the Taliban is yet to start. In Kabul, President Ghani and self-appointed president Abdullah Abdullah are yet to finalize a power-sharing agreement. The absence of a unified representation of the government makes the atmosphere surrounding the negotiations even more disturbing and chaotic.
What does it mean?
The recent attacks have raised questions on the future of the agreement whose success is heavily dependent on direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The Kabul and Nangarhar attacks have further widened the gap between the signed peace agreement and subsequent intra-Afghan talks. Taliban's continued attacks on the Afghan forces and refusal to cooperate with the Afghan government has led to chaos, allowing third parties such as ISIS to take advantage of the situation and launch attacks. Such attacks, irrespective of its origin, are misleading the peace talks.
The US government, on its part, is calling upon the Taliban and the Afghan government to resist attacks while sticking to its plan of reducing its military presence from Afghanistan. The Taliban, on the other hand, recognizes its position of strength vis-à-vis the Afghan government and would focus on increasing its territory than accept conditions that would show otherwise.
Considering the uncertainty surrounding the peace agreement, any progress on the intra-Afghan talks would be difficult to achieve in the near future.