By Ajit Kumar Singh*
On August 19, 2018, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani stated, “As we approach Eid-ul-Adha [festival of sacrifice]… we announce a ceasefire that would take effect from tomorrow, Monday [August 20, 2018], the day of Arafa, till the day of the birth of the prophet (PBUH) i.e., Milad-un-Nabi [November 30, 2018], provided that the Taliban reciprocate. We call on the leadership of the Taliban to welcome the wishes of Afghans for a long lasting and real peace, and we urge them to get ready for peace-talks based on Islamic values and principles…”
On August 20, 2018, two unnamed Taliban ‘commanders’ responded with the statement that their supreme leader Sheikh-ul-Hadith Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada had rejected the offer on the grounds that it too would only help the American-led mission.
One of the ‘commanders’ added, “Our leadership feels that they [US] will prolong their stay in Afghanistan if we announced a ceasefire now.” They also asserted that the outfit would persist with their attacks.
On the same day (August 20), the Taliban abducted and held hostage over 180 passengers – including at least 160 civilians and over 20 Security Force (SF) personnel – aboard three buses, when they were traveling through the Kunduz Province from the Takhar Province on the way to Kabul.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a ‘spokesman’ for the Taliban, stated, “We decided to seize the buses after our intelligence inputs revealed that many men working with Afghan Security forces were traveling to Kabul… We are now identifying members of the security forces.” All civilians were released later. Ghulam Rabani Rabani, a provincial council member in Kunduz Province disclosed on August 21, “More than 160 civilians have reached home safely but at least 20 soldiers and policemen have been taken to an undisclosed location by the Taliban.” The Taliban confirmed the release of civilians claiming that they had no intention of harming them. The SFs were shifted to a Taliban ‘secret jail’. “Most probably we would exchange them for our prisoners later,” an unnamed Taliban ‘commander’ stated. Referring to the incident, he added, “We wanted to convey a powerful message to the Government that we can launch many attacks and defeat them at every level.”
Apart from this, the Taliban have also claimed at least 57 incidents in which 78 SF personnel were killed between August 20 and August 26. On the other hand, SFs continued with their operations in Ghazni Province, where fighting between the Taliban and Government Forces intensified. Most recently, on August 24, 2018, at least 18 Taliban militants were killed during an air operation in Muqar District. Two ‘top members’ (identity not known) of the Taliban were among the dead.
Clearly, the purported cease-fire has ‘ceased to exist’.
Earlier, President Ghani had announced a unilateral ceasefire with the Taliban from June 12, 2018, to June 19, 2018, during Eid al-Fitr [celebrated by Muslims worldwide to mark the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting]. Ghani had then tweeted on June 7, 2018,
The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan announces ceasefire from the 27th of Ramadan [June 12, 2018] until the fifth day of Eid-ul-Fitr [June 19, 2018] following the historic ruling [Fatwa] of the Afghan Ulema… This ceasefire is an opportunity for Taliban to introspect that their violent campaign is not wining them hearts and minds but further alienating them.
In response, the Taliban declared, in a June 9, 2018, release
…All Mujahideen are directed to cease all offensive operations against the domestic opposition forces during the first, second and third day of Eid [June 15, 16, 17] however if Mujahideen are attacked, they must defend with their utmost capability…
The ceasefire, in this case, held till the Taliban declared its end stating , in a release dated June 17, 2018,
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 end tonight. Mujahideen throughout the country are ordered to continue their operations against the foreign invaders and their internal puppets as before.
This was despite the Ghani Government’s announcement, on June 16, 2018, of a 10-day extension of the ceasefire, i.e. till June 29. On June 30, 2018, Ghani declared,
The ceasefire has ended and our security and defence forces are allowed to continue operations. Now, it is up to the Taliban’s decision, whether they want to join the peace process or keep on killing in the country.
Though Ghani claimed that the second ceasefire (June 12 – 29) had been “98 per cent successful”, Taliban-linked violence remained unabated. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, there were at least 227 Taliban-linked fatalities (25 civilians, 79 SF personnel, 123 militants) during this period. Some of the major incidents (each resulting in three or more fatalities) during this period included:
June 27: 16 Afghanistan Border Police (ABP) personnel were killed and four went missing after an attack by Taliban militants at an outpost in the Yatimi Tapa area of Chah Ab District in Takhar Province.
15 Taliban militants were killed and another eight injured in five air-strikes conducted by Afghan Forces in Khwaja Sabs Posh District of Faryab Province.
June 24: At least 10 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers were killed in a Taliban ambush in Badghis Province (area not specified).
June 22, 2018: At least 15 pro-Government militia men were killed by Taliban militants in Badghis Province (area not specified).
June 20: 11 armed Taliban militants were killed in clashes with SFs in Trenkot city, the provincial capital of Urozgan Province.
June 18: About 17 ANA personnel were killed when Taliban militants attacked a security shell in the Shakh Walwal region of Jorm District in Badakhshan Province.
At least 10 Taliban militants were killed and another seven wounded after they carried out an attack on Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) checkpoints in the Pusht Roaud District of Farah Province.
At least 13 Taliban militants were killed during clashes with SFs at unspecified places in Helmand Province.
June 12: 10 Taliban militants and five Policemen were killed and another 26 injured in a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) attack using a Humvee military vehicle in the Muqur District of Ghazni Province.
Taliban killed 18 ANA soldiers and captured their post during an overnight attack in northeastern Badakhshan Province.
These incidents clearly suggest that the ceasefire was meaningless as there was no respite from terror during its entire duration, including the three days of the overlapping ceasefire – June 15, 16, and 17.
The first overlapping ceasefire between the Government Forces and Taliban were observed, according to Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) latest quarterly report (July 30, 2018), in 2008, when the Afghan Government, international military forces and the Taliban, each announced a ceasefire coinciding with the International Peace Day (September 21). Again, in 2009, the Afghan Government, international military forces, and the Taliban announced new ceasefires coinciding with the International Peace Day. Bothe these ceasefires lasted for just the one day.
These ceasefires and ongoing efforts to include Taliban in peace-process have all proven futile, as the Taliban has clearly stated its goal to continue jihad till it achieves its goal of ousting foreign forces and forming a Government of its ‘own’. Taliban chief Sheikh-ul-Hadith Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada, thus stated on August 18, 2018,
…it is incumbent upon us to show our appreciation of Divine Help and Jihadi victories with further Jihadic efforts and services and with further rectification of our intentions and deeds in order to become even more deserving of Allah Almighty’s help and assistance because righteous actions produce firmness and steadfastness in Jihad. …We pray to Allah that He (SwT) free Afghanistan from the American occupation, end the long tragedy of the valiant Afghan people through His Bounty, safeguard the Muslim Afghan nation from all enemy plots through their unity and bless them with an Islamic government on their own soil, of their own choice and choosing…
The war in Afghanistan continues.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management