Afghanistan has come a long way and it would be very unfair to negatively judge all the achievements in what is happening right now. We understand there is a political impasse, but it is on everyone — including Afghanistan’s international partners and the US in particular — to work together to break the deadlock and get the ball rolling.
On Monday, Mike Pompeo the United States Secretary of State said the US had cut 1 billion dollars in aid for Afghanistan in reaction to what he described as the inability of both President Ashraf Ghani and his rival the former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah to agree on forming an “inclusive government”.
Secretary Pompeo said the decision to slash aid was taken because he was unable to bring the political crisis in Kabul to an end. According to the statement released by the State Department, another billion dollars in US aid will be cut in the following year if things do not get back to normal. This decision was clearly made to punish the Afghan government for being uncooperative with the US on making the US-Taliban deal work.
The US has been very generous in funneling billions of dollars in aid to help build Afghanistan ever since it invaded the country, we know that and are highly appreciative for what has been done for Afghanistan in the past 19 years. But using the aid money as a leverage that goes to the ordinary people in Afghanistan who have no role in the current political crisis, to overcome political ends is unscrupulous. The Afghan people count on their American friends and are proudly honoring the bilateral relationship, as well as see the generous contributions of Afghanistan’s international allies as being highly significant.
It is clear that Secretary Pompeo’s trip to Kabul was not specifically aimed to resolve this political impasse, but to rather discuss other topics such as the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners to get the US-Taliban deal moving forward. Earlier, and in response to the repeated requests of the US government, President Ashraf Ghani had considered to release the Taliban prisoners but he was looking to find a better mechanism to make sure once the prisoners are released they do not rejoin their colleagues on the battle fields. On the other hand, the Taliban were indifferent in starting direct talks with the Afghan government, which made President Ghani pause on the release of their prisoners.
Up until last week, there has been no sign of the Taliban’s willingness to enter direct talks with the Afghan government, however the US has been pushing forward to implement its plan of withdrawing its forces with or without a peace deal between the Afghan government the Taliban.
With the mediation of the US diplomats, two “virtual” meetings took place between the Taliban and the Afghan government which is considered as crucial for beginning the real talks. Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman in Qatar, confirmed on his twitter account that two Skype interviews had taken place between their representatives and the Afghan government representatives discussing the prisoners release. He added their representatives will come to Afghanistan to inspect the situation of the prisoners who would be released from the government prisons.
The Afghan Security and Defense Forces have been on the threshold of this war that is being fought to defeat international terrorism and in which countless lives have been sacrificed. Ever since the NATO and US forces left the country as late as 2014, and shifted their role to mentoring and support of the ANSDF, the Afghan National Army and National Police took charge of fighting the Taliban and other terrorist groups across the country. But this war could not be fought alone and without the international community’s political support.
After Pompeo’s unsuccessful attempts to bring an end to the political crisis in Afghanistan, he flew to Qatar where he met with the Taliban’s political leader at a US military base. However, the detail of that meeting were not immediately disclosed to the media.
President Ashraf Ghani reacted to Pompeo’s statement, explaining how he could not reach an agreement with Mr. Abdullah on forming a government stating that as the President of Afghanistan he could not go against the constitutional provisions to create special posts for individuals — referring to Abdullah Abdullah’s demands.
President Ghani said, “I reassure you that the US aid cut won’t have any direct impact on our key sectors”. He added he is not in a position to amend the constitution on the recommendation of any individual politicians.
On Wednesday, a group of armed gunmen stormed a Sikh Gurdwara in Kabul’s district 1, local officials confirmed. Tareq Arian the spokesman for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior put the death toll at 25 and the wounded at eight. 80 civilians were rescued from the complex.
The Dharamsala or Sikh temple is located in a busy part of Kabul city. About 150 people were believed to have been trapped inside the building when the attack began.
It took hours for the Taliban to claim they weren’t behind the attack on the temple. Nevertheless, according to the Afghan government’s findings the attack was carried out by the Taliban’s Haqqani Network.
Later, the ISIS-K claimed responsibility for this attack. When the Taliban fall behind to claim such heinous attacks, the ISIS-K jumps in to claim credit.
This is the second major attack against the Sikh minority in Afghanistan. The last time they were targeted was in 2018, when a group of Sikhs prepared to meet President Ashraf Ghani in Nangarhar.
On Thursday, another bomb detonated near the site of the Sikh crematorium in Kabul, which had no casualties according to police officials.
As the country is battling with a political crisis and a Taliban insurgency, the Coronavirus Pandemic is adding to the compounded problems. According to Afghanistan Public Health Officials, the virus has entered Afghanistan from its western border. Herat, a major city bordered with Iran, is highly likely to go on a complete lockdown.
There were a number of positive cases of the coronavirus confirmed in other cities. Preventive measures have been taken to combat the virus, but more is needed to be done.
The young generation in Afghanistan is determined to work hard and protect their country against any dangers posed and to prove that this generation is already contributing with their blood and treasures to defend their country no matter what. With or without the US’ back, Afghanistan will still be a country and the Afghans will hope for the best.
*Jawad Sukhanyar, StratCom for Peace, Office of the First Vice President of Afghanistan