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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 50, New Delhi, November 28, 2020

Taliban terrorism is back in Afghanistan - Peace process deadlocked over U.S. forces withdrawal terms | Sankar Ray

Saturday 28 November 2020

by Sankar Ray

(India Press Agency, November 7, 2020) Afghanistan’s Taliban militants have resumed their terrorising posture embarked, thereby frustrating the proponents of a sustainable milieu for peace. At the moment, they have exacerbated violence and intimidation to capture Kandahar, the capital for the hard-line movement nearly a quarter-century ago. Hundreds of insurgents, civilians, and soldiers are believed to have been killed while thousands of villagers have been displaced as a sequel to fighting around the city of Kandahar, capital of one of the key provinces of land-locked country.

The hit-back from the official forces forced Taliban fighters to beat retreat from parts of rural areas, but resident Afghans have a feel of nightmares they experienced for years together. Taliban attempted to overrun two strategic provincial capitals including Kandahar and establish a commanding military advantage. The Taliban offensive is in the adjoining districts of Zharay, Maiwand and Panjwai, located along a major road connecting Kandahar to LashkarGah, the capital of neighbouring Helmand Province.

Kandahar’s governor Hayatullah Hayat told Radio Free Afghanistan, “Contrary to all human rights conventions, the Taliban is holding civilians hostage to protect itself from our air strikes and artillery fire”, while reiterating the national government’s commitment “We want to protect our people.” .The Taliban surprised the government forced by sudden infiltration into government-controlled territories in the recent time but their project fell through. “I can assure you that we have established a secure parameter around Kandahar city, and it is well protected”, Hayat said. Once the seat of Afghan empires in the 18th century, Kandahar has a pivotal political significance in Afghanistan. But in 1994, the Taliban emerged from districts surrounding this ancient city..

The Taliban are present in five villages of Arghandab, an agricultural district northwest of Kandahar. Nisar Ahmad, a farmer in Arghandab’s Nagahan village, recalled that they were awakened by Taliban fighters in his pomegranate orchard. “They told us to immediately run to our houses because they wanted to plant mines and dig trenches in our orchards to target the Afghan forces. Apart from one narrow alley, all streets in our village are now mined.,” he told RFA. “

There were a large number of casualties, albeit with conflicting claims. According to Jamal Nasir Barakzai, a spokesman for Kandahar’s police chief, “More than 300 were killed while the rest were gravely injured”, while Mujahidin, the Taliban spokesman said only a handful of their fighters were killed and wounded because most of the government air strikes were blind or inaccurate. As a propaganda measure, the Taliban flooded social media with videos and photographs showing captured Afghan military outposts and ammunitions in Arghandab.

The US authorities are perturbed over the “distressingly” high levels of violence threatening to derail Washington’s peace-building deal with Taliban insurgents and the ongoing intra-Afghan peace negotiations. The US special envoy in the peace process, Almay Khalilzad, warned the Taliban for intensifying battlefield attacks against Afghan security forces, including large-scale offensives in the southern Helmand province. “Our expectation has been and remains that violence comes down and stays down,” he tweeted..

Dost Mohammad Nayab, the provincial head of the Afghan Refugee Repatriation Ministry, laid assurance on keeping up efforts for rehabilitation of displaced people, estimated roughly at 10,000 families, but expressed worries too. “If the security threats continue to mount, we are likely to see more displacement,” he said.

The fighting between the Taliban and government forces, mostly belonging to the Afghan army extracted a heavy toll on civilians. At Kandahar’s Mirwais Hospital, for instance, an overwhelming majority of the 25 killed and 222 injured are civilians. “More than 141 of these had gunshot wounds while 67 were injured by mines,” according to the head surgery. At least in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, a war-like situation emerged to force many to run away from their homes.

The counter-extremism programme and activities have become more difficult and complicated with a bloody offensive of the Islamic State extremist group on Kabul University that killed at least 22 people on 2 November. .The fighting between assailants and security forces continued for over five hours. Sporadic grenade blasts and automatic weapons fire was heard from inside the university’s fenced compound, as Afghan troops stood guard. Significantly, it happened just before the arrival of government officials for a joint Afghan-Iranian bookfair.

The peace process stands deadlocked, more so when the U.S. military and the Taliban are engaged in a growing war of words over the terms of a deal to withdraw all foreign forces from Afghanistan.

"The peace process has stalled, and during that stall, the tendency of all parties is to revert back to their ’normal’ mode of operations, For the Taliban, a militant insurgency, that mode is waging war,” observed Andrew Watkins, a senior analyst for Afghanistan at the International Crisis Group.

Signs of desperation of Taliban top command are explicit. A bombing attack on at a girls school in the village of Dakhai in Afghanistan’s eastern Khost Province, set up four years back is its reflex. More than 1,000 girls now attend school. The Taliban seem unnerved as they are unaccustomed to live in a civil society whose essential requirement is peace and freedom of association. (IPA Service)

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