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Editorial: Warring parties flexing military muscles

Even as the United States pursues a deal with the Taliban, violence continues to rage in Afghanistan and the warring parties take pride in flexing military muscles while victimizing Afghans. According to Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) figures, enemy-initiated attacks in Afghanistan during the fourth quarter of 2019 were the highest for that quarter in any year going back to 2010, when recording began. It said such attacks – obviously masterminded by the Taliban – rose sharply last year, with the fourth quarter seeing a total of 8,204 attacks – up from 6,974 during the same period in 2018. On the other hand, the US dropped more bombs on Afghanistan in 2019 than any other year since the Pentagon began keeping a tally in 2006. According to new figures, US warplanes dropped 7,423 bombs and other munitions on Afghanistan, a nearly eightfold increase from 2015. This record high hike in violence is counter-intuitive because the warring sides’ claim of reduction in violence at a time when there is a lot of hype around a soon-to-be-signed peace accord between the Taliban and the US negotiators. All these moves by the stakeholders involved in the peace process reflect apparent efforts to increase their bargaining power, as well as force concessions from each other, at the negotiating table. This is while the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has restarted his diplomatic forays aimed at getting a peace deal with the Taliban signed. About a month back, Khalilzad paused the dialogue after a major Taliban attack on the largest US military base in central Parwan province but recently he visited Brussels to brief NATO allies on ongoing peace negotiations with the Taliban. He returned to Doha for resuming talks with Taliban negotiators on Friday and then briefly visited Pakistan before arriving in Kabul on Saturday to meet with the Afghan leaders. Amid these peace pushes, the year-long negotiations with the insurgents have mainly revolved around assurances that the rebels would cut ties with other terrorist groups, not allow the use of Afghan soil for attacks against other nations and they would enter into intra-Afghan talks after signing a deal on troop withdrawal with America. But it seems that while the possibility of intra-Afghan talks is nowhere to be seen, the Taliban’s claim of severing links to Al-Qaeda is also unfounded. A report by the United Nations claims Al-Qaeda continues to have “close and mutually beneficial” relations with the Taliban despite the latter group is holding talks with the US to broker a peace deal. This summarizes all these negotiations into one result, which is the fact that there has been no progress made and nothing achieved so far in this regard. There is no consensus on the reduction of violence as well. Afghan leaders are split on this issue as some of them say there should be no preconditions for peace talks while others, including the Afghan government, say a ceasefire is a sine qua non of intra-Afghan talks.  Meanwhile, the increase in violence in 2019 by both sides signify that none of them are sincerely committed to peace but are concerned about making the best out of the deal by wreaking havoc and destruction on Afghanistan and its people.

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