By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch (retd)*
Post the US-Taliban so-called peace deal on February 29, 2020, violence has been rising in Afghanistan. According to a report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) covering the third quarter of 2020, “High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian.” According to the report, during January-September 2020, civilian casualties alone were 5,939 – 2,117 killed and 3,822 wounded.
Fierce fighting between Afghan forces and Taliban have continued despite peace talks. In September 2020, the Taliban killed at least 20 government troops and wounded 17. In October 2020, multiple terror attacks left at least 243 people dead and another 339 were injured. At least 185 government forces personnel and 101 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in December 2020. Overall during 2020, 3,378 security force personnel and 1,468 civilian deaths in Afghanistan were confirmed as per media reports.
Terror attacks in Afghanistan in 2021 have already killed some 89 persons and injured another 20. Over 40 security forces members were killed in Kunduz, Baghian, and Nimruz provinces in two days of violence on January 18-19 alone. On January 20, three Afghan army soldiers were killed and four others wounded. On February 15, some 30 Taliban were reported killed when an IED exploded during a training session. On February 18, two university lecturers were killed in Kabul because of a bomb attached to the car. The violence is unabated.
US-Taliban deal has backfired
Instead of guaranteeing peace, the US-Taliban deal has worked the opposite which was expected because all that the former US President Donald Trump administration wanted was that the Taliban should not attack US troops especially during phases of reducing US troops and an ultimate ‘safe exit.’ Even the promise of not attacking US troops has not been fully kept by the Taliban, deflecting blame on other terrorist groups. To top this, the Afghan government was forced to release thousands of Taliban prisoners under the deal including hardcore leaders with proven records of terror attacks. Most of them have not kept their promise of renouncing terror after release either.
The Trump administration reduced US troop strength to 2,500 before Biden took over as the POTUS. The reduced US troop strength with the closure of some bases can barely influence the rising influence of the Taliban who is closing in on major cities like Kunduz and demanding the release of another 7,000 Taliban prisoners. Even in Kandahar, the Taliban have been attacking the surrounding districts moving closer to the city.
May 1, 2021 is the deadline for all US troops to exit from Afghanistan while the Taliban aim to lay siege to the Afghan government for precipitating its collapse. More pressure on Afghan security forces implies more desertions with some joining the Taliban.
What Taliban really wants
Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada has repeatedly stated that the Taliban want an Islamic Emirate under the rule of Sharia- so much for the façade of Taliban participating in a democratic government to rule Afghanistan. It should be abundantly clear that the Taliban aim for a complete takeover, which is what Pakistan and China want. But does the Biden administration also want this and is this in America’s interest?
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg recently announced an eight-fold increase in the contingent of the alliance forces in Iraq to 4,000 troops. One of the reasons for the increased presence could be the reduction of the US troops in the region. Stoltenberg did not mention Afghanistan but the Biden administration had earlier announced its intention to review the US-Taliban peace deal.
Calling for immediate reduction of violence in Afghanistan, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters at the Pentagon on February 18 that the Biden administration had not yet decided whether the US would withdraw its troops by May 1. Referring to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, Austin said, “There will be no surprises. We will consult each other, consult together and decide together and act together.”
Biden in his first address to global audiences on February 19 declared that “America is back, the transatlantic alliance is back.” Biden committed to America’s ties with NATO and the EU. The US rejoined the Paris Accord and the US are willing to talk to Iran on the Trump administration withdrawing from the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
Reject bogus deal
Biden must reject Trump’s bogus peace deal with Taliban reducing US troop strength that has caused mayhem in Afghanistan and diminished influence of government forces- translating his signal of America is back on the global stage into action.
The US-Taliban peace deal also needs to be rejected as it is a disaster in the making for Afghanistan, the region as well as for America since it would turn Af-Pak into a terror cauldron and a springboard to launch terror attacks on the US and its allies.
Any future deal for bringing stability to Afghanistan must have the Afghan government part of the deal, not the naïve manner in which the Trump administration brokered the deal keeping the Afghan government out and giving it a fait accompli.
*About the author: The author is an Indian Army veteran. The views are personal
Source: This article was published by South Asia Monitor