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Violence levels dip, then rise again

May 25, 2020

Summary: peace efforts increasingly resemble a series of lurches, both forwards and back.

On 22 February 2020, a week-long commitment to reduce violence levels was made by the US, Afghan government and the Taliban, in order to build confidence for US-Taliban talks.[1] This was not a formal ceasefire.  On 29 February, representatives of the US government and the Taliban signed an agreement.  It is not a peace deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban.  It is intended to form the beginning of a process of US troop withdrawal over months and years, concurrently with talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.  There is a lot of uncertainty.[2]  This is a small segment of an overall peace process that will need to engage with many factions of society.  The Taliban have so far avoided significant direct engagement with the Afghan government, choosing only to talk to the United States and demanding the complete withdrawal of US forces before they will talk about anything else.[3]  It is unclear how the Taliban envisage their future role in society and government, and how (and if) they might reintegrate.  Wider dialogue and reconciliation will pose a major challenge.

“…the whole thing could unravel when it comes time for intra-Afghan talks…The temporary ceasefire, if agreed upon, may provide a new lease on life to the on-again, off-again peace talks. A more permanent agreement, however, faces a number of pitfalls that could scuttle the ultimate objective of bringing lasting peace to Afghanistan…Who is going to amass what gains and on what terms and conditions in the post-withdrawal Afghanistan is so far a guessing game.  But the Taliban are probably the most influential force in deciding this question, and to some regional and international players, the militia is the crucial factor for bringing peace to Afghanistan. But will they act in the interests of peace?  Besides suffering from their own dilemmas vis-à-vis the peace process, the Taliban’s possible inclusion in power-sharing in Kabul is seen with concern for two major reasons: The militia’s desire for power and their world view.”[4]



“Spoilers” across the military and political spectrum, for example Islamic State, will attempt to disrupt and destabilise. This may particularly focus on the targeting of religious and ethnic minorities.[9]  But a greater concern relates to the medium and long-term. A hasty US-Taliban peace agreement followed by a precipitous US military departure, in the absence of a wider Afghan discussion and reconciliation, will increase the risk of instability and even civil war.[10]

“…that road to actual peace could turn out to be as long, steep, and winding as the Salang Pass road.  Peace may only come to fruition long after U.S. troops have withdrawn and after much intra-Afghan fighting…the intra-Afghan negotiating and fighting could go on for years.  It could easily feature unstable deals that easily collapse, powerful spoilers, military and political coup d’états, and the loss of interest by the United States (but active meddling by regional powers).”[11]

Since the late February 2020 week-long “Reduction in Violence” agreement by the government and the Taliban to reduce military activities, fighting, which never entirely ceased, has started to increase.[7]  On 7 April 2020, the Taliban walked out of talks with the Afghan government, calling them “fruitless”.[8]The United Nations has warned that civilian deaths are on the rise again.[12] There has been an upsurge in violence, including a terrorist attack on a maternity hospital in Kabul that killed medical personnel, women and babies.  Elsewhere, suicide bombs caused large loss of life in Nangarhar and Ghazni provinces.[13]  Several other smaller explosions and attacks have struck the capital.[14]

“In a news conference in Kabul Monday afternoon, Afghan military and security officials said it looked as if the Taliban had started their spring offensive without the usual formal announcement of an end to the winter lull.

In the joint news conference, Masood Andarabi, acting minister of interior, Ahmad Zia Seraj, NDS chief, and Bismillah Waziri, army chief, said the Taliban have launched more than 3,800 attacks since the signing of U.S- Taliban peace deal in Doha.  The NDS chief said Taliban have recruited many students from Pakistani seminaries after their closure due to COVID-19.

He said their intelligence information shows a closed cooperation between the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Tehreek e Islami Uzbekistan, Tehreek e Turkmenistan Sharqi, and Lashkar-e-Tayba, and fighters from these groups are fighting alongside Taliban.”

Most recently, the United Nations have highlighted the upward creeping of casualties amongst civilians:

UNAMA statement, 19 May 2020: Rising numbers of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, with a disregard for international law aimed at protecting civilians from harm, underscore the urgent need for parties to halt the fighting and to re-focus on starting intra-Afghan peace negotiations.

UNAMA’s latest preliminary figures indicate a trend of escalating civilian casualties in April from operations conducted by both the Taliban and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). There is also grave concern about levels of violence in the first half of May, including recent attacks claimed by Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP).

The Taliban were responsible for 208 civilian casualties in April, an increase of 25 per cent in comparison to April 2019 and at similar levels as March 2020. Civilian casualties attributed to the ANSF for April 2020 numbered 172 civilians, an increase of 38 per cent compared to April 2019 and 37 per cent higher than March 2020.”

Analysis and Outlook

Continued prisoner exchanges and a three day Eid ceasefire might temporarily cool things and give a chance for peace feelers to reach out again.  But the next 6 to 12 months will be tense.  Expectations, tensions and manoeuvrings regarding the talks will ensure the situation remains fragile.  On top of this – and often lost in the noise of the US/Taliban deal – there is a serious dispute between President Ghani and Dr Abdullah over the results of the Presidential election and the distribution of power within government.[5]  The cracks of this argument over power have been papered over, but could re-emerge at unhelpful moments.  It is very possible – indeed highly likely – that upsurges in fighting will occur as both sides attempt to secure a military advantage to bolster their position in the talks.[6] 


[1] ‘Week-long “reduction in violence” starts in Afghanistan, boosting peace hopes’, France 24, 21 Feb. 2020,

[2] Joscelyn, T., ‘No Deal Is Better Than a Bad Deal’, The Dispatch, 4 Mar. 2020,

[3] ‘Afghan Taliban, US to hold peace talks on Wednesday’, The Week, 8 Jan. 2019,

[4] Khattak, D., ‘The Pitfalls in Afghanistan’s Peace Process’, The Diplomat, 24 Jan. 2020,

[5] Bezhan, F., ‘Kabul Chaos: Afghan Election Dispute Could Spill Over Into Peace Process’, RFE/RL, 26 Feb. 2020,

[6] Tanzeem, A., ‘Taliban Spring Offensive Launched, Claim Afghan Officials’, Voice of America, 18 May 2020,

[7] ‘Voices from the Districts, the Violence Mapped: What has happened since the reduction in violence ended?’, AAN Report, 21 Mar. 2020,

[8] ‘Afghanistan peace deal: Taliban walk out of “fruitless talks”’, BBC News, 7 Apr. 2020,

[9] Foxley, T., ‘ISKP attacking minorities in Afghanistan’, Afghanhindsight report, 25 Mar. 2020,

[10] Dobbins, J., et al, ‘US-Taliban Negotiations: How to Avoid Rushing to Failure’, The Atlantic Council, 3 Sep. 2019,

[11] Felbab-Brown, V., ‘Order from Chaos: After the US-Taliban deal, what might negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan side look like?’, Brookings Institute, 19 Feb. 2020,

[12] Gannon, K., and Faiez, R., ‘UN: Civilian deaths by Taliban and Afghan forces on the rise’, Associated Press, 19 May 2020,

[13] ‘Taliban Suicide Bomber Kills 9 Troops in Eastern Afghanistan’, The New York Times, 18 May 2020, and ’24 killed, 68 wounded as suicide attack targets funeral in Nangarhar province of Afghanistan’, Khaama Press, 12 May 2020,

[14] ‘Bomb explosions rock Kabul, 4 injured’, MENAFN – Afghanistan Times, 12 May 2020,

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 25, 2020 4:43 pm

    Tim, It’s hard to ‘like’ an article like this, but I can admire it. A thought experiment: If there had never been an invasion of the territory now labeled ‘Afghanistan’, from Alexander to the present, what kind of polities might have arisen without influence from invaders?

    • May 28, 2020 1:53 pm

      Ron! Yes, well, give me about ten years of historical research time and I’ll get back to you 🙂

      Most regions of the world have endured invasions of various sorts, bringing new ideas, technology, etc. Could the answer resemble the studies of isolated South Pacific island tribes or jungle tribes in the Amazon rainforest? Someone is going to encounter them at some point – it doesn’t have to be as brutal as an “invasion” – but it still could be traumatic and damaging when you suddenly find there is a whole literal new world out there that you never knew about…

      Alternatively, maybe they end up like Switzerland…?

      • May 28, 2020 1:57 pm

        Yes, Switzerland could be a good example for right now, in my ignorant view. Perhaps it already is like that and Kabul lives in fantasy…

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