Analysis and comments
ON THE SITUATION IN AFGHANISTAN
According to Afghan media reports, the Taliban have seized more than 30 districts in the past two months. Those are in the provinces of Jawzjan, Faryab, Herat, Ghor, Farah, Badghis, Sari-Pul, Baghlan, Takhar, Balkh, Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul, Urugzan, Nuristan, Badakhshan, Ghazni, Logar, Maidan Wardak, Lagman, and Kunduz.
In the last two days alone, five districts were captured by the Taliban (in the provinces of Takhar, Faryab, Jawzjan and Samangan). The Taliban have confirmed this information. There is information about some districts recaptured by the security forces, for example, in the province of Kunduz. It happens that regional centers move from the Taliban to the security forces and vice versa; this happens in hand-to-hand combat.
Reports of dead and captured members of the security forces are received daily; just on June 15, according to local media sources, more than 100 Taliban fighters and 90 security personnel were killed.
The Ministry of Defense often reports on losses among the Taliban; the movement itself does not disclose this information.
Analysis of reports of hostilities indicates strengthening of the position of the Taliban in the north, especially in the provinces where ethnic Uzbeks live: this is where the Taliban are supported by the local population.
Meanwhile, President Ghani has accused the Taliban of committing war crimes and called on the international community not to be silent. “They [the Taliban] are destroying Afghanistan at the behest of strangers,” he said.
Experts debate the motivation of the Afghan army. Some believe that the military has no desire to die for the corrupt government in Kabul, and people go to serve mainly for money, as the army presently is the largest employer. Therefore, almost all soldiers have a strong mercenary consciousness. Other experts, on the contrary, indicate that there is a rise of anti-Taliban attitude taking place in the army today.
The rise in violence and capturing of territories by the Taliban caused a wave of dissatisfaction with the government's power policies. Last week, at the meeting of the Lower House of Parliament, the MPs returned to this issue three times, and the president decided to replace the defense minister. He appointed a new head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and chief of the general staff.
The change of the power bloc is already providing the first results, and the offensive of the government forces has been launched in the north. Afghan forces with air support recaptured two districts in Takhar province from the Taliban on Sunday night, and an offensive in Faryab province was announced on Monday.
On June 20, Mullah Baradar, the head of the Taliban office in Doha, published an article stating that the Doha Agreement must be implemented in order to make progress in the peace negotiations. Baradar emphasized the importance of defending the rights of citizens on the basis of Islam, and explained that the Taliban want to establish a “real Islamic system” in Afghanistan.
The day before the publication of Mullah Baradar's article, the leader of the Jamiat e-Islami party Gulbuddin Hekmatyar sent his own article to journalists. He openly criticized the position of the Taliban on the peace process. This is especially interesting given that, so far, he has largely supported the Taliban's demands and has come out in open opposition to the Ghani government.
Now, Hekmatyar has said that the Taliban have shown no willingness to compromise: they do not agree to a ceasefire, a reduction in violence and holding the elections. Hekmatyar also criticized Kabul's position, demanding to reconsider the membership of the negotiating delegation. He stated that he opposes the establishment of a coalition administration if will be the result of negotiations. In his opinion, an independent transitional administration will be effective, with the main task to conduct elections.
Last week a NATO summit was held in Brussels. Among other issues, the situation in Afghanistan was also discussed. As a result of the summit, it was decided that Turkey will be responsible for the security of the Kabul airport after foreign troops leave Afghanistan, and the Alliance will finance this work.
Even before the summit, Turkish President Erdogan said that his country is the only one that can maintain stability in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of troops. After the summit he added that Turkey intends to involve Pakistan and Hungary in its new mission.
These words caused a sharp response from Kabul, which has rather tense relations with Islamabad. The Turkish Ambassador to Afghanistan was summoned to the Afghan Foreign Ministry, where he met with Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar. After the conversation, the misunderstanding was resolved: the Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman explained that “the words of the Turkish President were misinterpreted.”
It should be reminded that the Taliban sharpy responded to decision to leave the airport under the protection of Ankara: they said that Turkey, as a NATO member, should leave Afghanistan in accordance with the Doha agreement. The Russian Foreign Ministry made a similar statement after the NATO summit.
Turkey is beginning to play an increasingly important role in Afghan politics. And this is not just about protecting the international airport in Kabul, which in itself is a challenge to the Taliban. Last week, Antalya hosted a three-day diplomatic forum “Innovative Diplomacy: New Era, New Approaches”, which was attended by 10 heads of state, 43 foreign ministers, and representatives of international organizations.
It is interesting that not only official Afghan politicians were invited to Antalya, but also ones representing opposition, including the leader of ethnic Tajiks, the head of the leading faction of the Jamayat-E-Islami (Islamic Society of Afghanistan) the head of the leading faction of the IOA (Islamic Society of Afghanistan) Rabbani.Rabbani.
Speaking at the Forum, the head of the Afghan Supreme Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah, called on the Taliban to negotiate, saying that now there is “a real opportunity for peace, and it is our common responsibility to make the most of this opportunity.”
When talking about a “real opportunity” for peace, Abdullah was referring to a new round of talks with the Taliban, which is due to take place in Doha soon. Afghan media reported that the group, which will be led by former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, will include Abdullah Abdullah, former Vice President Younus Qanuni, leader of the Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan Ustad Karim Khalili, deputy head of NIMA Babur Farahmand and Adviser to the Afghan President Akram Khpulwak.
According to the sources, the delegation will meet with the political and military leadership of Pakistan: “The team will convey the will of the Afghan people to the Pakistani leadership and discuss ways to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.” It should be noted that India is beginning to show itself more and more actively in the Afghan area, using every opportunity to weaken Pakistani influence on the peace process.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi gave a detailed interview, objecting to almost all claims made against Islamabad by Kabul, to TOLOnews at the end of last week.
He confirmed that Pakistan is interested in a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, as this will provide the necessary regional connections, economic security and the development of regional trade. But if earlier some “people”, according to Qureshi, believed that peace could be achieved through war, today Islamabad declares that there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict.
At the same time, he believes that only the Afghans themselves, the Taliban included, should decide who will enter the new government, how it will be formed and whether it will be an Islamic Emirate. Pakistan will deal with any government: “We want to interact with everyone, be friends with everyone, we want to be friends with Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan,” Qureshi said.
The minister noted that Islamabad would be happy if Afghan security forces were trained in Pakistan, but Kabul “has not seriously considered these proposals yet.”
Qureshi sharply dismissed allegations that Taliban leaders are in Pakistan. “They are in Afghanistan,” he said, “and you need to interact with them. We (Islamabad) interact with the Taliban only to facilitate the peace process, trying to be helpful and constructive.” “But the Taliban go to Quetta to visit their fighters, go to Pakistan for consultations, as have stated many times,” the correspondent objected. “They have visited many places,” retorted Qureshi. “Moscow, Doha, and other places.” The notion that the Taliban roam freely in Pakistan, recruit, fundraise, and receive treatment in Pakistani hospitals — all the accusations made by Ashraf Ghani — Qureshi called “exaggeration.”
“Pakistan is not responsible for the squabbles in Afghanistan. Pakistan is not responsible for your internal failures. We are not responsible for the fact that the Afghan leadership cannot sit down and work on a peace agreement,” the minister said, adding that the Taliban have also suffered and are ready for peace. However, when asked whether the Taliban seizure of nearly 30 districts in the past two months was a sign of readiness for peace, Qureshi declined to respond directly, saying: “The Afghan National Army and Afghan security forces must analyse why this is happening. The international community has spent a lot of money on equipping and training Afghan security forces, and their numbers are much larger than the Taliban. Why do not you think about what is going wrong?”
Without naming anyone, Qureshi accused President Ghani being disinterested in peace. The minister called “the Islamic State” and “the forces inside Afghanistan” to be “spoilers”, coming from the military economy, “wanting to perpetuate their power, not seeing beyond their nose and just wanting to hold on to power.” Qureshi declined to elaborate on who he was referring to, but mentioned that “Ghani has an important responsibility on his shoulders,” and he must demonstrate flexibility. He ignored the question of whether the Taliban should also be flexible.
Qureshi did not neglect India either: “We are worried that they are using your land against us, carrying out terrorist activities.”