Afghan Violence Surges Ahead of Turkey-Hosted Peace Conference
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ISLAMABAD - Government forces in Afghanistan and the Taliban both claimed Sunday they had inflicted heavy casualties on the other in their latest attacks, as the two adversaries are expected to meet in Turkey later this month for U.S.-proposed Afghan peace talks.
An Afghan Defense Ministry statement said national security forces in the last 24 hours killed nearly 160 insurgents and injured dozens of others in operations across several provinces.
Afghan army commanders are also reported as saying they have evicted the Taliban from Arghandab district in the southern Kandahar province, months after the insurgents had overrun it.
For its part, the Taliban took responsibility for a Sunday afternoon car bombing of an Afghan forces’ convoy in Paghman district, about 30 kilometers from the capital, Kabul.
Afghan officials said the blast killed at least three security personnel and injured more than a dozen others, fearing the death toll could increase because many among those wounded were in critical condition.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said a group of insurgents staged “tactical attacks” on the convoy following the car bombing and “killed/wounded up to 45” Afghan forces, though insurgents often release inflated casualty tolls for such attacks.
The Taliban did not comment on their battlefield losses in the face of recent operations by Afghan forces, but the group warned of possible retaliation, raising fears of more bloodshed in days ahead.
An insurgent statement said the Taliban “orders the (insurgent) commission for military affairs to take all necessary steps to defend itself and the local population if these operations (by Kabul) are not immediately suspended.”
The statement confirmed that Afghan forces had conducted airstrikes in Arghandab in recent days, but it did not say whether the group had lost control of the district to Kabul.
The renewed violence, analysts say, does not bode well for a proposed peace conference to be held in Istanbul, Turkey.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government has confirmed it will attend the peace conference, which will be held under the auspices of the United Nations.
An Afghan official told VOA on condition of anonymity Sunday that the conference will begin April 16 and will last 10 days.
Washington is pushing Kabul and the Taliban to finalize a peace deal at the proposed conference as the May 1 deadline looms for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan.
The deadline is part of a February 2020 agreement the United States signed with the Taliban to end what has been the longest war in U.S. history.
Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem last week told Afghan media that Turkish officials had formally shared details and the purpose of the Istanbul gathering with his group. The Taliban was in the process of deciding whether to attend the conference, he said.
Last week, Ghani unveiled his own peace roadmap at an international conference on Afghanistan hosted by neighboring Tajikistan, and Afghan officials say the proposal will be put forward at the Istanbul meeting.
The plan seeks consensus on a political settlement to the war and an internationally monitored Afghan cease-fire. In the next stage, it calls for holding a presidential election and the establishment of a “government of peace” that will oversee the implementation of a new legal system in the country.
The Ghani plan, however, runs counter to proposals U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration have recently shared with the Afghan warring parties in a bid to accelerate the process of finding a political settlement to the Afghan war.
The U.S. plan seeks to replace the Ghani government with an interim political setup, including the Taliban, which will oversee peace negotiations on reaching a deal that will end the Afghan war.
Kabul has strongly opposed the U.S. proposals. But Afghan opposition politicians have not endorsed the Ghani peace roadmap and have stressed the need for devising a unified plan before attending the Istanbul conference.
The Taliban have voiced opposition to both the plans offered by the U.S. and Ghani. The insurgent group insists a final settlement to the conflict must stem from the U.S.-Taliban deal and ensuing peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan negotiators, including representatives of Kabul.
The so-called intra-Afghan negotiations, hosted by Qatar, started last September but have stalled for most of the time, without making significant progress.
Critics are skeptical about whether the proposed conference in Turkey would help jump-start the stalled Afghan peace process. It also is not clear whether the Taliban would be willing to negotiate with Washington an extension of the May 1 troop withdrawal deadline. The insurgents have repeatedly urged the U.S. to abide by the deadline.
“While Afghan political groupings in Kabul are expected to consult and seek consensus on a joint political roadmap that is practical ahead of the Istanbul conference, Ghani's proposal will not only dilute a unified Kabul stance and divide opinions but will also face opposition from the Taliban and provoke a return to full-scale fighting,” said Omar Samad, a former Afghan diplomat.
Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan adviser and political commentator, hailed the conference in Turkey as another opportunity the international community has created for Afghans to find peace among themselves and reach an agreement.
“The agreement will have international U.N. level guarantees, but such guarantees are difficult to enforce once foreign forces leave,” Farhadi said.
“If Afghans, including the Taliban, fail to agree with each other as has been the case in the past 30 years, an enduring agreement in Istanbul, which can withstand the test of time is a miracle,” he said. “But one has to hope for it.”
Source: Voice of America