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Kabul retaliates as Taliban attacks kids, women, Sikhs

Kabul retaliates as Taliban attacks kids, women, Sikhs

With Afghan President Ashraf Ghani deciding to launch a military offensive against the Taliban, the US-Taliban bilateral peace deal is fast unraveling.

Ever since the US signed a peace deal with the Taliban on February 29 in Doha, Qatar, while keeping the Afghan government out of it, there has been much skepticism over it. Almost two-and-a-half months later,<a href="https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2020/03/05/the-us-taliban-peace-deal-a-road-to-nowhere/"><strong> that skepticism is coming true</strong></a> with unprecedented violence.

The deal envisaged a gradual pullout of American forces from Afghanistan; no attacks by the Taliban on US and Afghan troops; release of Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government; release of kidnapped Afghan soldiers by the Taliban and importantly, all sides in the Afghan theatre to sit down for peace talks–the intra-Afghan talks.

Despite a bilateral peace deal, and subsequent haphazard progress on certain aspects of it, the war-torn country has not seen a day when the Taliban or other terror groups have not carry out deadly attacks on security forces, civilians, and minorities. Even as Ghani was trying to bring around various ethnic factions in the country to hold talks for an intra-Afghan settlement, the Taliban stepped up violence. There was a pattern to the attacks—the terrorists did not target US troops, they only choose Afghan forces, civilians and minorities.

So overwhelming has been the violence against the Afghans, that too in the difficult days of coronavirus, that the government decided to retaliate. Ghani said that his administration will never oppose efforts for peace and reconciliation but the forces will defend against threats to the nation.

Ghani was referring to the gruesome <a href="https://indianarrative.com/world/dozens-killed-attacks-maternity-ward-funeral-afghanistan-1974.html"><strong>attacks on a maternity ward</strong></a> of a hospital in Kabul in which 24 babies, mothers, and nurses were killed. The attack left 16 people injured. The terrorists walked past the different wards of the hospital and opened fire only on the mothers and babies at the MSF-run hospital.

In the twin attacks, terrorists also targeted the funeral of a former Afghan security official with a suicide bomb explosion in eastern Nangarhar province, killing 32 people and wounding 103.

Ghani rallied the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), saying: "Today, once again, there is a need for you to demonstrate your hidden power and bring out your swords from the sheath. Today it is time that the enemies of Afghanistan see the power of the special operation forces and commandos of Afghanistan."

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The Afghan government has been arm twisted by the US to initiate talks with the Taliban, which have made little headway in over two months. Amidst intense violence directed at the country, Ghani finally took the decision to retaliate. He has ordered the national security forces to end active defence positions and resume offensives on militant groups including the Taliban.

It is evident that Afghanistan and the US are not on the same page. Even as the Afghan government blamed the Taliban for the hospital attack, US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said: “There are forces such as ISIS that doesn’t see peace in Afghanistan in its interests and are trying to increase violence, to undermine the prospect for peace.”

Despite the relentless violence in the country, the US has confirmed that Washington plans to implement the withdrawal of American troop from the war-torn nation. It currently has about 8,000 troops, including some from friendly countries.

Withdrawal of US forces is a view that Pakistan endorses. It wants US forces out of its western neighbor at the earliest. Aisha Farooqui, spokesperson of the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, said: "Pakistan believes that the US-Taliban Peace Agreement has provided a window of opportunity to the people of Afghanistan to work together for the ultimate aim of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. We hope that the Peace Agreement is implemented in its entirety so that it leads to the next stage of Intra-Afghan negotiations."

Basically Pakistan is eyeing a free hand in Afghanistan with the notorious Taliban as an ally.

Some of the other attacks in recent weeks include one during President Ghani’s inauguration ceremony in March, numerous ones on security checkpoints, and one on the <a href="https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/kabul-gurudwara-attack-top-isis-man-arrested-for-attack-on-afghan-gurudwara-that-killed-27-sikhs-2206240"><strong>Har Rai Sahib Gurudwara in Kabul</strong></a> on March 25, killing twenty-five devotees while at prayer. This attack was followed by another one the next day when the Sikhs were cremating their dead.

Afghan intelligence agencies were quick to nab the terrorists related to the Gurdwara bombing, some of whom confessed to having been trained by Islamabad. Just one month before the US-Taliban deal, the latter had driven an ambulance laden with explosives into a Kabul checkpoint, killing 95 people. Just before the ambulance attack, the terrorists had killed 22 people in a Kabul luxury hotel.

As the spiral of violence continues in Afghanistan and the US election campaign draws near, it just might happen that the US will retrace its steps from a country where it had stepped in to curb terrorism almost 19 years back. With intra-Afghan talks not showing progress, a virulent Taliban strengthening itself  under the cover provided by the US-Taliban deal, and Pakistan waiting to harness terrorists from Afghanistan, violence might just land on the Indian doorstep.

For the moment, the deal that the US signed with Taliban without involving the main stakeholder–the Afghan government, seems to be unraveling fast..