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Remember the wider context: number of deaths in Afghanistan, 1989 – 2017

August 15, 2018

Inevitably, from time to time, you tweet something out without having properly processed it.  This piece of data now strikes me.  It comes from the highly credible Uppsala Conflict Data Program.  A problem is judging accurately the level of casualties in the Afghan series of conflicts.  But this data, with that caveat, works as a good context-setter for the debates over casualty levels in contemporary Afghanistan.  It hadn’t quite sunk in for me that the current levels of violence appear to be significantly higher than the worst excesses of the Taliban vs Northern Alliance civil war period…

 

July UN statistics:

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British troops confirmed for Afghanistan

July 13, 2018

Summary: Over 400 British troops to deploy to Afghanistan in “non-combat” roles

Image result for british troops in kabul 2018

The idea was being floated in April/May that the US had asked the UK to send more soldiers to Afghanistan.  This was being mulled by the British government.  Reporting now seems to confirm that 440 soldiers will now be sent, effectively doubling the UK contribution.

BBC, 10 July 2018: The UK is to send 440 more troops to serve in non-combat roles in Afghanistan, the prime minister will announce at the Brussels Nato summit.

The commitment to Nato’s mission in Afghanistan will take the total number of UK troops in the country to 1,090.

Around half of the troops will deploy from the Welsh Guards in August and the remainder will follow by February 2019.

They will help “bring the stability and security that the Afghan people deserve,” Theresa May said.

“Non combat” generally means training the Afghan security forces, providing a small UK headquarters and intelligence presence in the capital as well as all associated logistics.  I doubt they will be deployed anywhere beyond Kabul.  The only exception might be special forces.

Close training of Afghan personnel always holds out the risk of “insider attacks”, whereby a rogue, confused or pro-Taliban recruit suddenly turns his gun on international trainers.  This was a significant problem just before NATO withdrew from Afghanistan in 2014, where massive training efforts were underway in order to get the Afghan security forces ready for handover.  The issue has gone away mainly because much less hands on training is undertaken by international forces and because many safety and security features were added to protection the international troops, including having an armed guard watching their back all the time.  On the 7th July, an American soldier was killed and two injured in the first insider attack in over a year.

Global ulema peace pressure on Taliban

July 13, 2018

Image result for global islamic summit afghanistan

Summary: Pressure on Taliban as “their war” becomes illegal according to Islam

The Taliban seem to faced with having their war with the Afghan government and people declared illegal.  This from Arab News:

JEDDAH: The International Ulema Conference on Peace and Security in Afghanistan has called for an end to the violence in the country, saying fighting between Muslims was strictly prohibited in Islam.  Under the patronage of Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, senior ulema, or Islamic scholars, from Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world said it was important the crisis in the country has “a supporting religious reference.”  Also present at the conference, which began on Tuesday, were the Saudi minister of Islamic affairs, Sheikh Abdullatif bin Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh; Imam of the Grand Mosque, Sheikh Saleh bin Humaid; and senior ulema member and member of the Ifta permanent committee and adviser at the Saudi royal court, Abdullah Al-Mutlaq.  Speaking to Arab News, the special envoy to the Afghani president, Mohammed Akram Khpalwak, said: “The gathering of these Muslim scholars is of great importance to us as they agreed that fighting is among Muslims is strictly prohibited in Islam.”

Following an Afghan ulema fatwa ruling against suicide bombing (that the Taliban attacked) and Ashraf Ghani’s unilateral ceasefire initiative in June, which seemed to sweep the Taliban along, pressure seems to be building on the Taliban to come to the negotiating table.

The Taliban are rejecting this (Taliban website offline at time of writing) but a global Islamic summit backed by 2000 Islamic scholars has got to give them pause for thought.

Meaningful Ceasefire?

June 20, 2018

Summary: President Ghani takes a bold gamble by announcing a unilateral government ceasefire.  The Taliban, to the surprise of many, responded similarly, resulting in an unprecedented three day cessation of hostilities.  The positive, optimistic and highly emotional response from all Afghans was overwhelming, heightened by a highly public and popular pro-peace march from Helmand to Kabul.  Despite Ghani announcing an extension to the ceasefire, the Taliban appeared to have resumed fighting.  The Taliban claim that the ceasefire proved Taliban’s discipline and unity and their wide support from the population.  This latter claim is dubious and the Taliban may struggle to sustain a summer offensive if the population is so demonstrably protesting against them.  The powerful popular embrace of the ceasefire is unlikely to be forgotten and the Taliban now appear strategically wrong-footed.  It takes the country into uncharted waters with a whole range of “what ifs”…    Taliban and police  

In terms of insurgent violence, 2018 started particularly unpleasantly in Afghanistan, with multiple indiscriminate terror attacks from the Taliban and Islamic State striking the capital, as well as insurgent operations across the country.  However, in February, there was a minor flurry of peace “chatter”.  The Taliban wrote a “letter to the American people”, calling for dialogue with the US in what looked like an attempt to pressurise the United States by bypassing the government and appealing to the citizens directly.  The Afghanistan expert, Barnett Rubin, had some media exchanges with the Taliban, criticising the group for failing to engage with the Afghan government.  The Taliban’s parting shot seemed to rule out any option for a ceasefire: “unless US talks directly to Taliban about ending occupation, no meaningful ceasefires or dialogue b/w Afghans can take place.”

On 28 February, President Ghani reached out again to the Taliban, offering condition-free talks, political recognition and possible prisoner releases in exchange for a ceasefire.  The Taliban’s response appeared cool.

In late March, more terror attacks saw the emergence of a hitherto unseen element in Afghanistan: a small grassroots anti-war protest movement originating in Helmand province, seemingly in spontaneous response to a terrorist bombing of wrestling match in Lashkar Gah on 23 March.  Around 13 people were killed and dozens wounded at a wrestling match.  The protest gathered a very positive media profile.

“Something remarkable is happening in the Taliban stronghold of southern Afghanistan. The people of Helmand province are protesting against the war and asking the government and the Taliban to stop killing civilians.

This protest would be less remarkable if it were a generic call to peace. Instead, the men and women of Helmand are planning to take the call to the Taliban, announcing that they would march to Taliban-held territory to press for their demands for a ceasefire and civilian protection. This is an act of immeasurable courage in an area where people strive to appear neutral between the government and the Taliban just to survive.

But if this movement had to come from anywhere in Afghanistan, it would be Helmand. The province has been one of the areas hardest hit by the bloody war that is increasingly preying on women and children.” 

Over the years, several sporting and public events have been targeted in Helmand and Kandahar.  But this incident became a catalyst for a local outpouring of war-weariness and anger against the continual civilian casualties inflicted by, primarily, the Taliban.  A “Helmand Peace March”, formed initially from small numbers of Helmandis, started a march that ultimately carried them to Kabul.  The media amplified this initiative which looked to be a genuine grassroots gesture of exasperation and anger at the continued conflict:

People across Afghanistan have expressed their support of the Helmand protestors and lawmakers in Afghanistan’s parliament also came out in support of the move.  Last week dozens of women from Helmand joined the protest by setting up their own sit in camp, alongside the men’s, outside the stadium in Lashkargah City.  The sit-in protest was launched following a deadly suicide car bombing near Ayub Khan Stadium last month, when spectators were leaving a wrestling match. At least 16 people were killed and almost 50 others were wounded in the explosion.”

By April, this had become a clear, strong, statement against indiscriminate violence.  As the movement gained momentum, the Taliban, on 25 April, announced their annual spring offensive, promising (and delivering) renewed terror attacks.  The capital of Farah province, in south-western Afghanistan, fell briefly to the Taliban on 15 MayOn 18 May the Taliban issued a statement that some media wrongly interpreted as a call for a ceasefire but which in reality was an attempt to cause defections amongst the ranks of Afghan government forces:

“Due to the very high number of casualties being suffered by the Kabul administration police and other forces (forecasted to increase even further) that naturally entails more grief and sorrow for the Afghan families hence the Islamic Emirate – to establish final proof – declares a general amnesty to all military formations, national army, national police, Arbakis and all employees of the regime to safeguard their lives and wealth.”

In late May, the US commander in Afghanistan, General Nicholson, said that behind the scenes discussions between the Taliban and the government were ongoing.  This didn’t really help much – it is reasonable to work on the assumption that the Taliban and Afghan government have lines of communications open more or less all the time.  There was a slight sense that the Taliban were considering Ghani’s offer.  By Taliban standards this was positive enough in itself, but on 4 June, a suicide bomber struck a large gathering of Muslim clerics in Kabul.  They were gathered to issue a fatwa (Islamic ruling) against suicide bombing attacks.  At least seven were killed.

On 7 June, President Ghani announced that Afghan government forces were to respect a unilateral and unconditional seven day ceasefire over Eid, from 12 to 20 June.  The Taliban were invited to reciprocate.  Rather than outright rejection of the offer, the Taliban said they were considering it.  On 9 June, the Taliban announced a shorter, three-day, ceasefire from 15 to 17 June.  These three days would overlap with the government ceasefire.

 “In order that our countrymen participate in Eid prayers and other festivities with complete confidence during the joyous days of Eid, the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate must strictly comply with the following directives: 1 – All Mujahideen are directed to cease all offensive operations against the domestic opposition forces during the first, second and third day of Eid”

The Taliban were very keen to emphasise that they had not been under pressure from anyone do call a ceasefire.  During the government part of the ceasefire, there was considerable scepticism about the Taliban’s intentions, particularly as the Taliban continued to launch attacks.  However, the Taliban honoured their ceasefire and this gave rise to genuinely unprecedented scenes of Taliban intermingling with citizens and government forces in the cities in displays of friendship and happiness.  Celebration spread rapidly: to many observers, Afghan and international alike, it was perhaps difficult to understand the warmth of the embraces between such bitter opponents.  Tajik politician, Amrullah Saleh, warned that the rapid and uncontrolled movement of Taliban into the city to meet their fellow countrymen might presage a Taliban “Tet Offensive” surprise attack.

President Ghani attempted to capitalise and extend upon this successful initiative.  He announced the government side of the ceasefire would be extended by another ten days, to 30 June.  The Taliban rejected this.  Their ceasefire ended on 17 June (as the Helmand Peace March symbolically arrived in Kabul) and attacks were once again being recorded on 18 June and beyond.

What does it mean?  A few thoughts.

The war-weariness of the population (and willingness to embrace Taliban fighters in spite of everything) was self-evident.  The popularity of this brief pause from the fighting was clear.  We seem to be returning to “normal” levels of conflict, but Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network convincingly argues that this genie cannot be put back in the bottle.  President Ghani should get credit and support for his initiative – and he should push for other ceasefires and reach out further to the Taliban.  Credible international interlocutors (UN, NGOs, international experts, such as Barnett Rubin, and academics) could also support this.  The US-led military coalition, already a greatly reduced force from its peak in 2011, could explicitly link reduction in fighting levels to a reduction in foreign military presence – the Taliban’s main objection.  This can be a building block to confident and credible negotiations between Taliban and government.

For the Taliban, this is probably given them cause for some urgent re-appraisal, given all they have to offer this summer is more of the same bombing and killing – in a conflict which, since 2014, has been overwhelmingly one of Afghan Muslim against Afghan Muslim.  Further popular spontaneous protest against them will not be a good look.   Although they claim (with little justification) that the ceasefire showed the high level of popular support for the Taliban, they may privately understand that this was mostly a government and people unified against them and that the “popularity” they point to was directed more at low level fighters willing to embrace their fellow citizens rather a gesture of support for the Taliban’s ethos and methods.  How does this impact on their approach this year?  We might expect some caution over targeting overtly civilian targets and some quick denials if Islamic State launch indiscriminate attacks – as they surely will.

The ceasefire and the popular reaction to it seemed to take most actors by surprise.  It was rapid and chaotic.  This can be both helpful and unhelpful.  It shows unambiguously what can be achieved if there is popular support that sends a clear message against violence.  It showed that there needn’t be a break down into a welter of small and large shooting violations.

But ceasefires can be spoiled easily – by Pakistan (whose relationship with the Taliban still remains opaque and suspect), Islamic State, rogue groups or by simple misunderstanding.  The two isolated terror incidents that took place in Nangarhar during the ceasefire were likely by Islamic State.  Spontaneous intermingling of less-than-disciplined armed groups holds the prospect of accidental or intentional outbreaks of shooting.  Amrullah Saleh’s fear of a “Taliban Tet”, as a result of hundreds of Taliban entering and re-entering government held towns and cities doesn’t seem to have materialised – this time.  But a new ceasefire might not be so straightforward next time: spoilers may be better placed to initiate disruption.

The risks of spoilers notwithstanding, Afghanistan might now see more grassroots peace initiatives.  The Helmand Peace March might continue – perhaps even formalising itself into some kind of quasi-political lobbying movement.  Or new national and local movements may develop.  This is positive but might point to a loss of control over the process by government and Taliban.  There is also the chance of local insurgent infighting: there has already been a report of local Taliban wanting to continue a ceasefire against the instructions from the Taliban leadership.  Perhaps spontaneous local ceasefires might become the new normal?

The Taliban have made two big claims about the ceasefire from their perspective.  The first is probably true: that it shows the control that the Taliban leadership have over its disparate groups of fighters by organising and enforcing such a nationwide cessation of hostilities.  The second claim, that it demonstrates how popular the Taliban are in the hearts and minds of the people, is absolutely false.

Even if the conflict continues in its current form for years (which, regrettably, is still a very plausible outcome), this unique ceasefire released an optimistic outburst from the Afghan population that will be remembered for a long time.  It could well be seen as the “tipping point” that analysts point to as the moment that an end to the conflict became possible.

Particular developments to watch out for in the coming weeks:

  • Spoiler activity
  • Emergence of more grassroots movements and local ceasefire deals
  • Tensions within the Taliban
  • Taliban statements about talks

 

Timeline:

January – spike of terror attacks in Kabul

14 February: Taliban issue “letter to the American people”

23 February: Barnett Rubin: “Thesis on peacemaking in Afghanistan”

26 February: Taliban state they are prepared to enter talks with the United States

27 February: Rubin response to Taliban:

The flaw in your call for dialogue is that it is addressed only to Americans, not your fellow Afghans. You accuse Afghans opposing you of “committing treason against our nation,” but the government of Afghanistan, corrupt and divided as it may be, is recognized by every nation in the world—not just Washington and its allies. Your dialogue with the U.S. government cannot replace dialogue with that government”

27 February: Taliban respond to Rubin:

If we agree on ending occupation, talks b/w Afghans with or without international mediation will bear fruit.” https://twitter.com/balkhi_04/status/968737785275396096>

28 February: Ashraf Ghani offers peace deal to Taliban.  Offers political framework for peace dialogue with a ceasefire and Taliban recognised as a political group.  Taliban must respect law, Taliban prisoners may be freed and names struck off blacklist.

“The offer, made at the start of an international conference aimed at creating a platform for peace talks, adds to a series of signals from both the Western-backed government and the Taliban suggesting a greater willingness to consider dialogue.

Ghani proposed a ceasefire and a release of prisoners as part of a range of options including new elections, involving the militants, and a constitutional review as part of a pact with the Taliban to end a conflict that last year alone killed or wounded more than 10,000 Afghan civilians.

“We are making this offer without preconditions in order to lead to a peace agreement,” Ghani said in opening remarks to the conference attended by officials from around 25 countries involved in the so-called Kabul Process.

“The Taliban are expected to give input to the peace-making process, the goal of which is to draw the Taliban, as an organisation, to peace talks,” he said, adding that he would not “pre-judge” any group seeking peace.”

Pasted from <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-taliban/afghanistans-ghani-offers-talks-with-taliban-without-preconditions-idUSKCN1GC0J0>

1 March: RFE/RL, The Afghan Taliban gave a cool reception to President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of political recognition and a truce while representatives from more than 20 countries voiced support for his peace plan.  https://www.rferl.org/a/afghan-taliban-cool-ghani-peace-offer-while-20-countries-kabul-process-support-it/29069945.html>

12 March: the Diplomat – Taliban “studying the proposal”  Fruitless or a Breakthrough? Making Sense of Ashraf Ghani’s Peace Offer to the Taliban: Is the Afghan president’s bold gambit doomed to failure?…a Taliban leader reportedly stated that, “the United States and Afghanistan have to pitch realistic and non-bullying peace proposals. The Taliban are willing and ready to give a careful read to sensible proposals.” Pasted from <https://thediplomat.com/2018/03/fruitless-or-a-breakthrough-making-sense-of-ashraf-ghanis-peace-offer-to-the-taliban/>

23 March: A suspected suicide bomber has killed at least 13 people and injured dozens more in a car bomb attack on a sports stadium in the Afghan province of Helmand.

The blast happened at a wrestling match at the Ghazi Muhammad Ayub Khan stadium in the region’s capital Lashkar Gah. Pasted from <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-43519692>

27 March:  Uzbekistan  called on the Taliban insurgent group to accept a ceasefire and offered to host peace talks between the Afghan government and the insurgent group.

Pasted from <https://ariananews.af/tashkent-calls-on-taliban-to-accept-ceasefire-join-peace-talks/>

2 April: Helmand Peace Protest Gathers Momentum

People across Afghanistan have expressed their support of the Helmand protestors and lawmakers in Afghanistan’s parliament also came out in support of the move.  Last week dozens of women from Helmand joined the protest by setting up their own sit in camp, alongside the men’s, outside the stadium in Lashkargah City.  The sit-in protest was launched following a deadly suicide car bombing near Ayub Khan Stadium last month, when spectators were leaving a wrestling match. At least 16 people were killed and almost 50 others were wounded in the explosion.”  https://www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/helmand-peace-protest-gathers-momentum>

7 April: Pakistan calls on Afghan Taliban to join peace process.  Prime Minister Shahid Abbasi urges Taliban to avail the Afghan government’s latest offer of direct talks without delay. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/04/pakistan-calls-afghan-taliban-join-peace-process-180407114254621.html>

21 April: Grass roots peace movement in Helmand – Peace Springs in Taliban Heartland?  The Taliban should heed a grassroots movement demanding an end to civilian casualties. https://thediplomat.com/2018/04/peace-springs-in-taliban-heartland/>

“Something remarkable is happening in the Taliban stronghold of southern Afghanistan. The people of Helmand province are protesting against the war and asking the government and the Taliban to stop killing civilians.  This protest would be less remarkable if it were a generic call to peace. Instead, the men and women of Helmand are planning to take the call to the Taliban, announcing that they would march to Taliban-held territory to press for their demands for a ceasefire and civilian protection.”

Pasted from <https://thediplomat.com/2018/04/peace-springs-in-taliban-heartland/>

25 April: Taliban announcement Spring offensive “Al Khandaq”

15 May: The Taliban claimed to have captured the capital of the western province of Farah on Tuesday, while government officials and their American military backers vowed that the authorities would quickly oust insurgents from the city, the first to be overrun by the militants in two years.

Pasted from <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/15/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-farah-.html>

18 May: Taliban issues “amnesty” to any govt forces that defect.

Statement of Islamic Emirate regarding amnesty for Kabul administration employees seeking surrender

“Due to the very high number of casualties being suffered by the Kabul administration police and other forces (forecasted to increase even further) that naturally entails more grief and sorrow for the Afghan families hence the Islamic Emirate – to establish final proof – declares a general amnesty to all military formations, national army, national police, Arbakis and all employees of the regime to safeguard their lives and wealth.”

Pasted from <http://alemarah-english.com/?p=29198>

31 May: Senior Taliban officials have been secretly negotiating with Afghan officials on a possible ceasefire, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan disclosed Wednesday.

“A lot of the diplomatic activity and dialogue is occurring off the stage, and it’s occurring at multiple levels,” General John Nicholson said in a teleconference with reporters at the Pentagon. He would not identify the figures involved in the negotiations, except to say that they included mid- and senior-level Taliban officials.  Pasted from <https://nation.com.pk/31-May-2018/taliban-afghan-officials-in-ceasefire-talks-us-general>

4 June: Muslim Clerics Bombed Hours After Declaring Fatwa on Suicide Attacks in Afghanistan

“A bomber killed at least seven people in an attack on a gathering of the country’s top Muslim clerics, on the same day the organization declared an Islamic ruling against suicide attacks.

The Afghan Ulema Council was meeting in Kabul on Monday when the attacker struck, detonating his explosives at the city’s Polytechnic University where the council was meeting, the Associated Press reported.”

Pasted from <http://www.newsweek.com/muslim-clerics-bombed-hours-after-fatwa-suicide-attacks-afghanistan-956104>

7 June: Ghani announces 7 day unconditional ceasefire for the end of Eid celebrations from June 12 to June 20

9 June:  Taliban order 3 day countrywide ceasefire: In order that our countrymen participate in Eid prayers and other festivities with complete confidence during the joyous days of Eid, the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate must strictly comply with the following directives: 1 All Mujahideen are directed to cease all offensive operations against the domestic opposition forces during the first, second and third day of Eid”

Pasted from <http://alemarah-english.com/?p=30187>

15, 16, 17 June: Taliban and Afg govt overlapping period of ceasefire

16 June: President Ghani extends govt ceasefire and asks Taliban to do the same

Ashraf Ghani‏Verified account @ashrafghani

“We also request the Afghan Taliban to extend their ceasefire. During the ceasefire, we will provide medical assistance to the wounded Taliban, and will provide them any humanitarian assistance if needed,. Taliban prisoners will also be allowed to contact and see their families.”

Pasted from <https://twitter.com/ashrafghani/status/1007994335995056128?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bbc.com%2Fnews%2Fworld-asia-44507090>

16 June: Amrullah Saleh highly critical of ceasefire, warns of Taliban “Tet offensive”:

“All 12 instruction of @ashrafghani to ANDSF & d governors in regards to d ceasfire hv been violated.If this ceasfire ends 4 any reason it will mean a TALIBAN TET OFFENSIVE.  Countless armed Tlbn are in cities. ANDSF havn’t gone to their territory.They hv infiltrated the NUG space.”

Pasted from <https://twitter.com/AmrullahSaleh2/status/1008023923437527041>

17 June: Taliban reject ceasefire extension

“A suicide bombing in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Sunday killed at least 10 people during a holiday ceasefire which was further marred after the Taliban said it would not extend the truce ending at midnight”. http://www.france24.com/en/20180617-afghanistan-ceasefire-taliban-president-peace-council>

June 17: Taliban claim their ceasefire shows that they are a nationally strong movement and that it demostrated how popular they are amongst the people:

In order that our countrymen may celebrate their Eid festivities in ease and comfort, the Islamic Emirate announced and successfully implemented a three day ceasefire. This ceasefire was not in response to the ceasefire of the Kabul regime but was announced for the wellbeing of the nation and has to an end tonight.  Mujahideen throughout the country are ordered to continue their operations against the foreign invaders and their internal puppets as before.”Pasted from <http://alemarah-english.com/?p=30455>

June 17: Afghan peace convoy arrives in Kabul –

“Afghan peace activists have arrived in Kabul after trekking some 700 kilometers on foot calling for an end to Afghanistan’s nearly 17-year war.  The Helmand Peace Convoy reached the Afghan capital early on June 17 chanting slogans including “We want peace” and “Stop the war, after traveling for more than a month. The march kicked off in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, which is largely under Taliban control.

It began with a group of nine men and picked up around 40 supporters during the journey.”

Pasted from <https://www.rferl.org/a/peace-convoy-arrives-in-kabul-after-700-kilometer-march/29294431.html>

17 June: Reuters

“The Afghan Taliban said their three-day Eid ceasefire, which ends on Sunday, proved the unity of their movement and its ‘wide national support’ as the presidential palace extended its own ceasefire with the militants by 10 days.” Pasted from <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-taliban/eid-ceasefire-proved-wide-support-for-afghan-taliban-they-say-idUSKBN1JD02Z>

 

June 18: Taliban attack Afghan police in Tagab district of Kapisa

“Early on June 18, Taliban fighters attacked police posts in the eastern province of Kapisa’s Tagab district, leaving two police officers wounded, the provincial deputy police chief said.”

Pasted from <https://www.rferl.org/a/peace-convoy-arrives-in-kabul-after-700-kilometer-march/29294431.html>

Definitely NOT a ceasefire: Taliban propaganda bid to cause defections and splits in Afghan army

May 19, 2018

Summary: Taliban propaganda efforts call Afghan military and government personnel to quit

This statement was released by the Taliban on their website on Friday 18th May.  It was somewhat breathlessly reported by some media as an indication that the Taliban were calling for what would have been a fairly significant ceasefire in order to spare the lives of fellow Afghans.  The message highlights the high casualties that the Taliban are inflicting on the Afghan army (“losing tens of soldiers on the frontlines every day”).  It states that the Americans are the main targets and corrupt officials are playing with their lives.

A key part of the text however indicates clearly that this is an offer to spare only those Afghan government forces – army, police, arbaki and government employees – who leave the posts and stop fighting.

“The Mujahideen never expect that you fight in the ranks of Mujahideen once you leave those of the regime. Rather after leaving the ranks of those protecting the invaders, they want you to return to normal life, to safeguard your families from misery and grief and to save your children from becoming orphans and your wives widows. The Mujahideen shall use every means at their disposal to try and ease your life.”

Comment

A fight simply against US forces would be a tricky one to achieve for the Taliban – they do not generally conduct combat operations and this conflict is almost entirely Afghan against Afghan.  But an interesting departure for the Taliban is that this offer is not a straight demand that deserters should then join the Taliban – they are instead allowed to return home.  The implication being that it is better for the Taliban that Afghan soldiers are at least out of the fight and giving them an “easier” option heralds a chance of success.    If dozens of soldiers quit their posts it would be trumpeted from the Taliban rooftops.  But I see this as a Taliban misjudgment and unlikely to go anywhere significant.  We will see in the coming days whether this new reach-out gains traction.  A few isolated, hard pressed, local police individuals and small groups may turn themselves in to local Taliban, but this sort of “to and fro” happens most years.

Full text here:

Statement of Islamic Emirate regarding amnesty for Kabul administration employees seeking surrender

May 18, 2018  

With the passage of a month since the launch of Al Khandaq operations by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan against the American invaders and their internal supporters, a lot of progress has been observed. Large regions have been cleared from the servile regime as the enemy is pushed into a feeble defensive posture all the while losing tens of soldiers on the frontlines every day.

These security forces however are our own countrymen who have joined the ranks of America due to misguidance or other reasons. The Americans want to substitute these Afghans for themselves in the ongoing war.

Due to the very high number of casualties being suffered by the Kabul administration police and other forces (forecasted to increase even further) that naturally entails more grief and sorrow for the Afghan families hence the Islamic Emirate – to establish final proof – declares a general amnesty to all military formations, national army, national police, Arbakis and all employees of the regime to safeguard their lives and wealth. It also wishes to elucidate to the following points:

1 – The main focus of Mujahideen attacks in Al Khandaq operations are the Americans and their foreign allies. You however are turning into Mujahideen targets because you are protecting the foreign invaders and the corrupt regime which they have installed. Since the foreign invaders and their installed corrupt regime are neither in your interest or in the interest of our country nor are they in the interest of your religion and beliefs therefore rescue yourselves and prove your loyalty towards your Lord, beliefs and land by forsaking their ranks. In case you do leave the enemy ranks, the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate will guarantee protection of your life and wealth through a general amnesty.

2 – You must understand that the invading Americans are the historic enemies of Islam, Quran and Ummah (nation) of Muhammad. They have martyred hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and around the globe. They recently occupied the first Qibla of Muslims and shifted their embassy to Baitul Maqdis, making it their most hate-filled move yet against Islam and Muslims. Standing in the same rank with warring infidels and the most ardent enemies of Islam and Quran as well as fighting for them and murdering your own countrymen for their objectives are such unforgivable crimes that if one was to die upon them, one would face the most stern punishment in the hereafter and would be resurrected for judgment in the same grouping as Bush, Obama and Trump.

Therefore you must reflect on consequences for hereafter and eternal life. Lift yourselves out of the pit of wrongdoings and misguidance. Utilize this opportunity of being alive and the doors of repentance being open. Show regret for your actions as Allah Almighty is the oft Forgiving, most Merciful and there is hope that all your wrongdoings will be forgiven by Allah Almighty.

3 – The Mujahideen never expect that you fight in the ranks of Mujahideen once you leave those of the regime. Rather after leaving the ranks of those protecting the invaders, they want you to return to normal life, to safeguard your families from misery and grief and to save your children from becoming orphans and your wives widows. The Mujahideen shall use every means at their disposal to try and ease your life.

4 – Forces that are fighting for the defense of invaders and corrupt regime!

Do you not understand how carelessly your lives are thrown away just so that the corrupt officials can extend their corrupt rule? They snug away their children and families in foreign countries in complete comfort and even snatch away whatever little concessions you are supposedly promised to further this proxy war.

Do you not understand that your corrupt officials not only play with your lives but loot the chastity of your honor after your death? So why would you throw away your lives and destroy the future of your children and families for such corrupt and immoral officials?

For the sake of your own lives, for the protection of your children and for deliverance in the afterlife, leave the support of the Americans and accept the invitation by the Islamic Emirate of a life of peace and honor for you and your families.

5 – The Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate are determined with the help of Allah Almighty to intensify their Jihadi attacks against the invaders and their backers. The Mujahideen shall continue their Jihad until our country is completely freed from foreign occupation and an opportunity is afforded for the establishment of an Islamic system.

So before you die in dishonor in the ranks of the invaders in this war of independence, the Islamic Emirate once again invites you to leave the ranks of the invaders and offers general amnesty for all those who leave the enemy fold. Do not delay any further and miss out on this golden opportunity.

Wasalam

Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan

02/09/1439 Hijri Lunar

18/05/2018 Gregorian

Mission creep: UK to send 400 troops to Afghanistan?

May 18, 2018

Summary: As the Taliban Spring offensive gets underway, additional troop deployments to Afghanistan are being mulled by the British government

It seems as if the UK Defence Minister is recommending the deployment of approximately 400 more British troops to Afghanistan.  They would – at first look, at least – be intended to support the training of Afghan soldiers, who have come under great pressure during the newly announced Taliban “Spring Offensive”.

BBC News, 18 May: The government is considering sending hundreds more British troops to Afghanistan, the BBC understands.  The defence secretary has written to Theresa May recommending the UK boosts its military presence in the country – but no decision has been made.  The UK currently has more than 600 troops in capital Kabul helping train Afghan security forces.  It follows calls by US President Donald Trump and Nato for allies to join him in sending more troops to the country.

 

Image result for British soldiers helmand training ANA

British and Afghan soldiers, Helmand

Background:

Historically, the British engagement with Afghanistan has been mixed at best and disastrous at worst. In the 18th to early 20th centuries, Afghanistan was seen as a buffer against Russian Imperial expansion towards India, then the “Jewel in the Crown” of the British empire.  Amidst thousands of skirmishes and small actions on the North West Frontier – the Pushtun tribal border area between what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan, Britain fought three major wars in and against Afghanistan in pursuit of establishing pro-British regimes: 1839-42 saw a humiliating defeat, 1879-82 went little better and 1919 was perhaps a draw.  The notion of the British as historic invaders has formed a key platform for Taliban propaganda narratives in the 21st  The UK government and its armed forces (in particular its special forces) played a key role in the defeat of the Taliban in late 2001 and the British Army established the first ISAF command headquarters in December 2001 under General John McColl.  Britain has provided significant numbers of combat troops and also a large diplomatic effort and economic assistance for the reconstruction of the country, its armed forces and the establishment of a democratic government system.  Four hundred and fifty-six British military personnel (predominantly in Helmand province) were killed in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014, when most British forces were withdrawn with the closing down of ISAF.[1]  British political, diplomatic and military assets remain in Afghanistan, albeit on a smaller scale but Britain should still be considered perhaps as second only to the Americans in terms of a desirable international target for the Taliban.[2]  The British Embassy is heavily defended and is in the “Green Zone” which includes most of the key foreign embassies, military bases and Afghan government ministries.

Comment:

Any additional UK troops will become an automatic target for insurgent attacks – be it by the Taliban, Islamic State, the Haqqani Network or other smaller groups – whether are training in the field, resting in camps or being processed through Kabul.  The UK has spent much time and military effort on training Afghan security forces, with mixed results, see my report from 2012, here.

As the British government would say, British military commitments to Afghanistan are kept under constant review.  A couple of years ago I wrote this in response to another suggestion that British troops might deploy.

The Afghan government and security forces are clearly struggling this year with a perhaps more forceful than average Taliban “summer of hate”: Farah city briefly fell to the Taliban earlier this week (as ever, reporting is a little confused).  The Long War Journal reports that the Afghan MOD claim six other centres around the country are at risk.

[1] Farrell, T., Unwinnable: Britain’s War in Afghanistan, 2001-2014’, (The Bodley Head: London, 2017).

[2] ‘Attack on British Council compound in Kabul kills 12’, BBC News, 19 Aug. 2011, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-14585563

 

UN report: Afghan air strike causes 107 casualties

May 8, 2018

Summary: A UN report into an Afghan Air Force rocket and machine gun attack in Kunduz province finds that 107 civilian casualties were caused, including 30 children killed.  The attack hit a religious ceremony by a madrassa.  The Afghan Air Force, now equipped with powerful rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, is actively flexing its new muscles.  Its ability to control and account for these muscles, however, looks poor.     

Image result for Afghanistan air force new attack helicopter MD-530

MD-530 AAF attack helicopters

The United Nations Aid Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has released a report on the 2 April 2018 Afghan Air Force (AAF) air strikes that caused multiple civilian casualties.  UNAMA claim to have verified 107 casualties, 36 killed and 71 injured, of which 81 victims were children (30 killed and 51 injured).

The airstrikes, using rockets and heavy machine gun fire, struck a religious ceremony taking place next to a madrassa in Laghmani village, Dasht-e Archi district of Kunduz province.  The operation was understood to be targeting senior Taliban leadership in the area, including members of a Taliban “Red Unit” believed to be gathering to launch an attack.

Analysis and Outlook

Air strikes inflicting civilian casualties have been a regular and tragic feature of this conflict.  The incident echoes the US bombings in the early period of the campaign: weddings, religious gatherings and those holding weapons were being struck regularly.  The incidents are too numerous to mention comprehensively here.  In July 2008 US aircraft struck a wedding ceremony in Nangarhar, killing The German air force achieved notoriety when it hit a fuel tanker that Afghan civilians had clustered around.  Some of these errors by the international community were a failing to misunderstand aspects of Afghan culture, some due to a “gung ho” aggressive approach (particularly in the early stages of the campaign) and poor procedures.  Others still were simply because it will always be difficult to clearly identify viable targets or separate armed combatant from civilians during an insurgency where “good” and “bad” humans are intermingled.  ISAF learnt the lesson quite early: kill civilians and you create more Taliban.  But it is still hard to fix.  Strenuous multi-stage clearances processes were instigated to restrict the release of munitions only when targets were clearly identified.  Not a perfect process but improvement in performance was made.

UNAMA Report: Additionally, the use of rockets and heavy machine fire from MD-530 helicopters in the context of such an event attended by a large number of civilians, with no apparent warning issued prior to the attack, is especially concerning. Such weapons do not allow for precision targeting and the impact area of the rockets extended over approximately 400 meters. The imprecise nature of the weapons that were used make it difficult for an attacking party to distinguish between the military objective of an attack and civilians or civilian objects, which is required to limit the attack’s effects as required by international humanitarian law.  Considering such circumstances, UNAMA finds that it was reasonably foreseeable that an attack against this area, using imprecise weapons, during a religious ceremony would have caused a large number of civilian casualties, with lethal indiscriminate effects.

However, the Afghan security forces do not have the level of training and capability that ISAF did, suggesting a “new era” of civilian casualties from air and artillery strikes may be arriving.  Perhaps this is an inevitable consequence of turning the war over to national Afghan forces.  These are obviously highly controversial issues and can turn local populations against the government.  The bitter media battle between Taliban, civilians, government and NGOs will confuse and complicate analysis of what happened and ultimate culpability.  It also seems unlikely that the Afghan government will be able to produce a clear and impartial assessment of their role because they are not sufficiently competent and impartial.  Deny, denounce and deflect, followed by a late, grudging and partial acknowledgement is the most likely outcome.

It feels as if this aspect of the counter-insurgency campaign has lurched backwards at least ten years.

Taliban announce commencement of Al Khandaq military operations.

April 27, 2018

Summary: a standard Taliban announcement of combat operations for this year, showing a bankruptcy of imagination on many levels

On 25th April, in a now ten-year long tradition, the Taliban officially announced the commencement of their “Spring Offensive”, the symbolic end to what is historically seen as the lull in combat operations through winter and a return to the summer campaigning season.  The statement, in the region of 1,300 words long, claims that religious centres are now being targeted by the US and highlights the legitimacy of the Taliban struggle.  Four main reasons are given for the struggle:

  • The damage and casualties caused by foreign forces
  • Trump’s new strategy is bringing in “thousands of additional foreign forces”
  • US military bases prove there is now US/Kabul government interest in peace
  • Immoral anti-Islamic behaviour is increasing in areas controlled by the US and the Kabul government.

The announcement explains the meaning of the “Al Khandaq” (“The Trench”) operation title.  The defence of Medina by Mohammed in the 7th century was conducted partly by trench works and resulted in the decisive defeat of a coalition army of Arab Bedouin tribes.  The prime targets for 2018 are the US forces, with “internal supporters” – the Kabul regime – as secondary targets.  The announcement exhorts Taliban fighters to operate in complete compliance “with the rules and regulations of the Islamic Emirate” and avoid causing civilian casualties.

Analysis and Outlook

I have been studying these announcements for some years – there have been, to my count, ten of these formal Spring Offensive announcements.  In terms of pure word count, this is the longest one yet.  Last year’s announcement was the shortest since 2009: this 2018 declaration is twice as long as 2017.  I have searched through them each time, trying to look for hints or indicators of policy shifts and new ideas.  They are sometimes evident to a small degree: 2010 was the first time they talked about avoiding civilian casualties, doubtless recognising the negative propaganda this was creating.  In 2011, as a clear anti-talks statement, the High Peace Council was identified as a legitimate target.  In 2012, a “Recruitment Commission” was introduced.  In 2014, the exhortation to continue the fight even though NATO was pulling out showed a concern that Taliban fighters might have a “mission accomplished” moment and go home.  But these announcements have become fairly standard in content.  I am reasonably confident I could write them myself now.  An inspiring title generally references one of Mohammed’s battles.  The inherent contradiction and fate-tempting risk of calling operations “Victory” or “Success” year after year seems to have been recognised.  Naming them after deceased Taliban leaders serves only to highlight the vulnerability of their commanders.  Keeping it in the 7th century is a safe option, filled with inspirational leaders and battles.  Demonstrations of the legitimacy of the cause in the face of indiscriminate violence, oppression and moral corruption come next.  Some references to guerrilla tactics and the priority targets – US and foreigners first, Kabul “puppet” regime second – come next.  In this announcement these are very brief and generic.  Near the end, lip service is paid to the idea that Taliban fighters should pay careful attention to avoidance of civilian casualties: a strong contradiction, given the indiscriminate violence caused by the IEDs and suicide bombings which are the favoured tactics in the towns and cities.

See my comments on Taliban 2017 announcement

See my comments on Taliban 2016 announcement

See my comments on Taliban 2015 announcement

There are a few points to be made about this year’s announcement.  The choice of “The Trench”, clearly invoking a defensive operation against a superior force, is mildly curious.  Does this suggest they are planning to let a coalition army – this time, US-led – exhaust itself attacking Taliban-held districts, or is the choice simply an inspiring victory of the outnumbered against the many?   No reference at all is made to peace talks of any sort – no acknowledgement that President Ghani had made an offer, nothing that could have been inferred “between the lines” to show willingness for dialogue in certain conditions.  No reference is made to the high number of casualties the Taliban have caused through suicide attacks and other bomb attacks.  No reference is made to Islamic State, now their competitors, if not Afghan-wide, but certainly in some provinces and districts in eastern Afghanistan.  The Taliban give the US forces primacy for targeting, yet the US do not have any ground troops engaged in significant combat – and their forces levels (for all the Taliban talk of “thousands of additional foreign forces” coming into Afghanistan), the international military presence is a mere tenth of its peak level in 2011 (140,000 or so).  This is almost entirely Afghan Muslim fighting Afghan Muslim.  But the Taliban seem to need the Americans as the main demon in order to maintain recruitment and fervour.

My overriding sense is that the Taliban are trapped by their own rhetoric and lack of imagination about what to do for the future.  They operate purely as a military campaign, run by a military economy, powered by a propaganda machine and running a form of religious martial law in areas that they claim to control.  The Americans seem blinkered in different ways – trapped by their own logic of training the Afghan Army to be able to do what the Americans were doing in Afghanistan ten years ago – albeit the ANSF are surely going to be generating many more civilian casualties now they have been given exciting new artillery and aircraft.

It is not impossible that talks are ongoing behind the scenes – this has been the case over the last few years.  But, other than Mr Ghani’s commendable and doubtless sincere, efforts to trigger some talks, there looks to be no credible diplomatic structure or reach out from anywhere.  The hints of growing popular protest and demonstration by the people, tired of indiscriminate violence, are cause for encouragement but are very fragile and may well come to nothing.  If there is any notion that the Taliban want to do – or are capable of doing – anything other than fight, then they are keeping it very well hidden.

Afghanistan: Peace in Our Time?

February 28, 2018

Afghanistan: Peace in Our Time?

Summary: Several uncoordinated but interesting peace overtures coming from Taliban, the US, an academic expert and the Afghan government.  It doesn’t necessarily mean anything will happen: January’s spike in terror attacks are still fresh in the mind.  But Barnett Rubin’s calm, clear and intelligent open letter response to the Taliban sets a good example and could help guide the Taliban towards engagement and options for dialogue.  That the Taliban responded almost immediately to Rubin is unprecedented and cause for some encouragement.  Confidence building measures could be sought.  Low-level ceasefires monitored by, for example a joint Taliban/UN/Afghan government and US group, could contribute to this. UPDATE: A different Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, also replied to Barnett Rubin, slightly less positively…. text below 

There has been a flurry of peace-related writings from major parties to the protracted Afghan conflict, including the Afghan Presidency, the US, the Taliban and legendary Afghanistan expert, Barnett Rubin.

On 14 February, the Taliban released a “Letter to the American People”, seemingly an attempt to bypass the US government and appeal directly to the American people in the hope that they will sway US policy.  The letter highlights all the problems the US have created in Afghanistan and the cost in lives and money.

In brief, insisting on prolonging the war in Afghanistan and maintaining American troop presence is neither beneficial for America nor for anyone else, rather it endangers the stability of the entire world. This is irrefutable reality which is only rejected by your arrogant authorities. If you want peaceful dialogue with the Afghans specifically and with the world generally, then make your president and the war-mongering congressmen and Pentagon officials understand this reality and compel them to adopt a rational policy towards Afghanistan!

On 23 February, world-famous Afghanistan expert and former US government negotiator and advisor, Barnett Rubin, recently published a short paper “Theses on peacemaking in Afghanistan: a manifesto”.  It offered a highly articulate tour around the historic and current reasons for Afghanistan remaining beset by intractable conflict.

Given the dependence of all Afghan actors on external assistance, it is impossible for them to reach agreement if their patrons oppose it. Therefore, the starting point must be to build a sufficient international consensus as a basis for any negotiation and devise a mechanism to make a credible commitment to sustain the state into the future.

The difficulty of defining or even imagining an end state that would meet the minimal needs and demands of such a large number of actors (United States, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, China, India, Afghan urban westernized elites, Pashtun nationalists, Afghan Islamists, and non-Pashtun ethnic leaders, for starters) undermines the credibility of any negotiation. Each actor tends to believe that its adversaries have no feasible proposal and are using talks to buy time.

It was slightly disappointing to read only in the sense that it offered little more than “hope” that economic progress offered by the TAPI pipeline and Chinese and Indian investment in and around the region might bring about national and international cooperation.

On 26 February, the Taliban have stated that they are prepared to enter into talks with the United States

The Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan calls on American officials to talk directly to the Political Office of Islamic Emirate regarding a peaceful solution to the Afghan quandary.

It would help in finding a solution if America accepts the legitimate demands of the Afghan people and forward its own concerns and requests for discussion to the Islamic Emirate through a peaceful channel.

The Islamic Emirate made it clear to the American people and congressmen through an open letter that war is not our choice, rather it has been imposed upon us. For ending the occupation, we want a peaceful resolution to the Afghan issue.

But far more interesting and potentially valuable has been Rubin’s direct response to the Taliban’s “open letter”.

I had been pondering the question: “Why doesn’t anyone respected and credible reply to Taliban open letters?” ever since the Taliban started this process of communication via their website roughly ten years.

Rubin expertly ticks all the right boxes in his response and is very good at acknowledging mistakes on the US side and the missed opportunities.  He is also firm and clear in pointing out Taliban errors without bias.

The flaw in your call for dialogue is that it is addressed only to Americans, not your fellow Afghans. You accuse Afghans opposing you of “committing treason against our nation,” but the government of Afghanistan, corrupt and divided as it may be, is recognized by every nation in the world—not just Washington and its allies. Your dialogue with the U.S. government cannot replace dialogue with that government and the millions of other Afghans who fear your attacks and your return. Trying to exclude them repeats the mistake the U.S. made by excluding you….

Your call for the United States to end the fighting would be more persuasive if you offered to abandon it yourselves. You need not alter your entire position: just change the order of events by challenging the U.S. and Afghan government to agree to a temporary ceasefire before the office formally reopens, regardless of who controls how many districts this week or the next.

 

Surprisingly and encouragingly, the Taliban have responded directly and promptly to Rubin, giving Rubin some credit for the reach out – this from the Twitter account of Abdulqahar Balkhi, one of the accounts generally seen as an official Taliban spokesman:

Great piece by @BRRubin however I would personally like to respond to some (intentional/unintentional) misconceptions. Foremost, I appreciate your recognition that Taliban are not what Kabul propagates, and the deaths & imprisonment as well as policies of leaders are proof

Assertion in early paragraph that peace through dialogue is impossible is flawed b/c #Taliban have asked for dialogue from beginning yet it is US that will not come down from high horse & let go of false pride (colonial mentality).

Wrongly interpreted that #Taliban exclusively seek talks with US rather Taliban demand direct talks with US first due to main source of conflict being occupation. If we agree on ending occupation, talks b/w Afghans with or without international mediation will bear fruit.

US insistence on killing/imprisoning all Taliban cemented fact that supposed Afghan gov has no decision making authority as admitted by Gul Agha/Karzai/others to Taliban seeking amnesty, contradicting own assertion that Taliban underestimate Kabul ability & authority.

Qatar Political Office opening delayed precisely due to contentious issue of naming office & only opened once US agreed it could be called ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ so assertion otherwise is false (we have signed documents for proof)

Closure of Political Office by US again proved that US do not care about treaties or promises (sequence began with mass killing of surrendered #Taliban prisoners in 2001) & only used office for domestic popularity contest (prisoner exchange), not for advancing peace

Closure of Political Office by US again proved that US do not care about treaties or promises (sequence began with mass killing of surrendered #Taliban prisoners in 2001) & only used office for domestic popularity contest (prisoner exchange), not for advancing peace

Conclusion – your proposal is well-intentioned but until & unless US talks directly to #Taliban about ending occupation, no meaningful ceasefires or dialogue b/w Afghans can take place b/c US is calling all the shots (puppets cant even remove own governors)!!!

The response shows at least that the Taliban are listening, absorbing and considering engagement. It would be helpful if the dialogue could continue.

It occasionally feels that a peace deal could actually be reached almost unexpectedly.  There is one recurrent and circular argument between the Taliban and the US which runs like this:

Taliban: to achieve peace in Afghanistan the US needs to withdraw

US: The fighting needs to stop before we can withdraw

Although the Taliban appear to resist the idea of ceasefires in this response, local ceasefires or other forms of local collaborative initiatives – initially small scale and temporary – could be offered as confidence building measures.  Create a joint body that includes Taliban/Afghan Govt/UN and US representatives to monitor the ceasefire.  The aim would be in part to monitor a ceasefire but also to develop lines of communication and build confidence in the good intentions of the other party.  Both sides need to save face, both sides need to avoid unhelpful talk of “winning and losing”.

Adding to the sense of “stuff happening”, on 28 February, Ashraf Ghani offered a peace deal to the Taliban that would give them recognition as a political movement and reintegration and protection for Taliban members.  Pahjwok reports today that:

In an expected overture, the national unity government asserted its desire to strike a “truthful and sustainable peace deal” with the Taliban who are ready for reconciliation.

President Ashraf Ghani spoke of his administration’s desire for peace negotiations with the insurgent movement in his remarks to the second meeting of the Kabul process. For their part, the Taliban have offered to launch talks with the United States

A political framework for peace dialogue should be created with a ceasefire and the Taliban recognised as a political group with an official political office, the president suggested. The militant outfit would have to respect the rule of law, he said.

If they promise shunning the insurgency, Taliban prisoners may be freed and their names struck off from international blacklists. Former fighters and refugees could be reintegrated and provided with job opportunities.

Ghani promised his government would ensure facilities and security for the Taliban who joined the peace process.

What does it all mean, if anything?  We have had many false dawns where it comes to talks, or “talks about talks”.  It would be a brave analyst to proclaim this series of dialogues a prologue to peace: recent Taliban terror attacks in January have hardened even more hearts against them and Afghans are increasingly interested in registering and addressing war crimes.  Regrettably, the current US administration appears spectacularly under-resourced for any form of political initiatives in relation to Afghanistan.  The Taliban should be encouraged to engage in any manner of political activities and dialogue.  However, sooner or later, the Taliban will have to be confronted with the notion that, for all their propaganda and claims of controlling a nationwide “jihad”, they are not actually that popular or relevant to a young and forward-looking Afghan populace.  See also the Afghanistan Analyst’s Network’s “manifesto” addressing the need for essential institutional reform needed to improve the chances for dialogue.

Sorry, I appear to have ended on some pessimistic points…

————————————————————————————-

UPDATE:  This additional response from the other Taliban lead spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid is significantly less optimistic – interesting there are two separate and differing responses…

From: Zabihullah Mujahid <zabihullahmujahid@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: My Open Letter to the Taliban
Date: February 28, 2018 at 7:33:30 AM EST
To: Barnett Rubin <brrubin@me.com>
Dear Barnett R. Rubin

Thank you for reaching out to us. We have read your reply however would like to point towards a few crucial points you missed.

– If your country (United States of America) were occupied by us, its land and airspace were usurped and many American citizens were killed in their sleep by our forces every day, it is entirely plausible that you would not have the same views as you hold today, therefore it is hoped you will remain pragmatic.

– Our country has been occupied which has led to an American style supposed Afghan government being imposed upon us. And your view that we talk to them and accept their legitimacy is the same formula adopted by America to win the war.

– You have said that we supposedly killed civilians in our martyrdom attacks. This should give us a pause because a war is raging, most of the civilians are being killed by the operations and bombardments of your forces and even if we were to accept that our operations also cause civilian casualties, then answer us, what has compelled us carry out such attacks? Perhaps you also remember that we lost one and a half million Afghans in our war for independence against the Soviet Union, however we endured all these hardships for the greater cause of attaining freedom from invasion.

– You ask us not miss opportunities. We have not lost opportunities but cannot frame plots as opportunities either. The Kabul Process and other such efforts seek surrender from the Islamic Emirate at a time when the Islamic Emirate is without a doubt a force that has defeated an international arrogant power like America with all its allies and tools at disposal. So do you believe such a proposal is logical?

– You state that the Kabul government should be recognized because it is also recognized by the entire world!!!?

In 2001, the entire world also agreed with, supported and accepted the American invasion of our country, so should we also have accepted the invasion?

Moreover during the Soviet occupation of our country, majority of the world including the United Nations officially accepted and recognized the Kabul regime as legitimate. So would it have been reasonable for the Afghan resistance of the time to follow suit?

– The main issue as it stands is that the entire world probably fears America, however we do not fear America. We have weighed America and have gained tremendous experience from fighting against her. America does not hold the right of determining the nature and type of governments in other countries. If you hold similar views then that is perhaps because you are an American citizen however no free human being can ever allow such audacity and interf erences.

The crux of the matter is, what is the vital concern of America, is it really terrorism?

Or is it extracting the mineral wealth of Afghanistan, imposing a self-styled government, preventing establishment of an Islamic system and pursuing imperial ambitions in the region from this land?

If it is the former, then we are sincerely committed to resolving it. We do not wish to interfere in the affairs of others and neither do we seek conflict with anyone including the United States. Our repeated letters to the American administration, people and congress were for this exact same purpose.

But if it is the later, then understand that this nation is unlike other nations which America has currently subdued, exploited their resources, are pursuing imperial ambitions inside them and are directly interfering in their internal affairs. In such circumstances, we do not care about America, neither do we wa nt to talk nor end resistance nor will we get tired. Then it is up to American analysts like you to keep score of the losses, whom suffers the most and whom loses in the end?

Regards

On Wed, Feb 28, 2018 at 1:48 AM, Barnett Rubin <brrubin@me.com> wrote:

 

 

 

Standard tactics, softest targets…

January 24, 2018

Summary: a terror attack against an NGO in Jalalabad reminds us of the difficulties in protecting soft targets and the absence of talks with the Taliban

Afghan security officers at the scene of the attack in Jalalabad

Ongoing fighting in Jalalabad.  On Wednesday morning, terrorists using small arms, rocket propelled grenades and suicide bombs launched an assault on the Save the Children Compound NGO in Jalalabad.  At least 12 are reported to have been injured although it is believed that around 100 people might actually work in the compound.  Local security forces are attempting to clear the buildings.

Violence in the playground

I hadn’t yet had the time to gather my thoughts on the Taliban attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul.  The tactics of suicide bomb-followed by small arms and grenades-followed by protracted struggle to root out a handful of die-hard fighters-followed by confusion over casualties and the identity of the perpetrators are now long-established.  The assailants could be Taliban, Islamic State or the Haqqani Network (who are generally seen as loyal to the Taliban).  An NGO dedicated to the welfare of children ranks alongside hospitals, schools and universities as the softest of all possible targets.

The Taliban – who certainly have no problem killing some civilians but often distance themselves from the deaths of other civilians – appear officially to have denied involvement in this particular attack:

2h2 hours ago

Islamic State have a strong presence in Nangarhar province.  Criticism of the performance of local security forces in neutralising such attacks is probably technically and tactically justified but still harsh, given the very difficult task with which they are confronted, fighting room to room against fanatics whose express intention is to be carried out feet first.

But, as the Afghanistan Analysts Network bleakly note, Afghanistan and the Taliban are no further forward in any effort to achieve dialogue:

Despite a new offer by the Afghan government through the High Peace Council, there was not much movement toward government-Taleban talks to end the war peacefully in the past year. Both sides continue to engage in general pro-peace rhetoric, while allowing little to happen in practice. Currently, they are bogged down in a dispute over whether the Taleban political office should be in Kabul or Qatar.

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