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Doha accords go up in smoke as Taliban assaults key Afghan cities

Afghan cities under assault by Pakistan-supported Taliban militants (Photo: Google Maps)

Afghanistan has been experiencing heightened violence with the government of Ashraf Ghani caught in a difficult situation. Despite assurances given by the Taliban of not attacking cities and the capital, the last few days have seen exactly the opposite. Kandahar international airport has been attacked and there has been a major blast in Kabul. Claiming responsibility for the Kandahar rocket attack, the Taliban asserted that the strike was meant to deny the Afghan Air Force the use of air power that was being used to target the militant group. “Kandahar airport was targeted by us as the enemy were using it as a center to conduct air strikes against us,” stressed Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujaheed.  

However, such an attack could have had significant implications. Civilian lives could have been lost and even aircraft moving in the vicinity could have been hit.  While the Taliban had thus far refrained from attacking major cities and Taliban leaders have been reiterating their commitment towards this end, the ground has recently shifted. Pakistan-backed Taliban forces are, with impunity, attacking cities with sizable civilian populations on the pretext of countering government forces, undermining a key principle of the Doha accord, which is now in shambles.

The explosion that took place in Kabul on Aug 3 is also a case in point. The blast was a reminder that the capital is not yet safe from being targeted by the Taliban. A series of such bombings across the capital could turn Kabul into a dysfunctional city.

Pakistani officials receive coffins of their fallen comrades inside Afghanistan at a checkpoint along the Durand line, which marks the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan

The attack that targeted a heavily fortified area in the city was meant to eliminate Acting Defence Minister Bismillah Mohammadi, who was holding a meeting at his residence at the time of the blast. Though he survived the strike, the incident, nevertheless, was a pointer to the Taliban’s significant capabilities, including its heft to gather accurate intelligence along with the capacity to get close to the target in a fortified location to carry out a deadly blast.  The explosion killed 8 people while 20 others were injured.

Intense fighting has also taken place in Lashkar Gah – the capital of Helmand where the Taliban are using the local population as human shields. Members of the militant group have embedded themselves among the locals making it difficult for the Afghan forces to target them. There is no doubt that following the aerial bombing of certain Taliban positions by the Afghan-American combine, the Taliban will be adopting the safer strategy of entering the cities and embedding themselves in dense population areas from where they would subsequently be able to launch their operations.   

The city of Herat also come under fire, though the Afghan forces have been digging in for a full-scale Taliban onslaught on the strategically located historic city, close to the border with Iran.

There is no doubt that   this calibrated switchover by the Taliban from attempts towards regional domination to the targeting of cities cannot occur without the direction and guidance of their mentors, the Pak ISI. Ironically, while these noxious and destructive activities are being carried out by the Taliban, the Pakistani delegation to the US comprising the Pak NSA Moeed Yusuf and DG ISI Gen Faiz Hameed have been trying to engage in Washington, the political and bureaucratic elite dealing with Afghanistan, in a bid to convince them of the dire straits in which Pakistan finds itself today, following the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Playing the “victim card” the Pakistanis have also been trying to convince the Americans that a fragile Afghanistan would have serious negative implications for Pakistan – the traditional sympathy seeking argument. The brazen Pakistanis have been even trying to convince the Americans that they themselves are responsible for their failure, instead of the Pakistanis who had indeed contributed majorly to the American debacle in Afghanistan.

But Pakistan’s well-worn ploys are unlikely to work. It is high time the Pakistanis realise that seasoned players in the region can see through their strategic game plan in Afghanistan. With advanced technology and monitoring capabilities, it is not rocket science to understand Islamabad’s dubious fork-tongued double- tracked approach.

The flow of fighters from Pakistan to Afghanistan and the return of a large number of dead bodies of Pakistanis from cities along the border with Afghanistan is there for all to see. The Americans, of all people, are well aware of the mechanism the Pakistanis resort to for training, sheltering and eventually embedding Pakistan based cadres, including those from the internationally proscribed terror groups, the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiyba (LeT), into the Taliban rank, to bolster the group’s fire power. The Chinese would also know Pakistan's modus operandi, and neither would the Russians, masters of realpolitik, be unaware of Islamabad’s nefarious designs, which could hit them in their Central Asian backyard.  

Also Read: Pictures don’t lie: Pakistan army’s deployment on the frontline alongside Taliban in Afghanistan exposed

Also Read: B-52 bombers blunt Taliban’s advance in Herat, other cities