|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [Hangout - NYLXS] what peace talks?
Violence Plagues Afghanistan as Peace Talks With Taliban Struggle to
Ehsanullah Amiri and Sune Engel Rasmussen
KABUL—Deadly violence in Afghanistan has marred the first-ever direct
talks between Kabul and the Taliban, underscoring the high stakes that
face the warring sides as they struggle to get negotiations off the
ground to end nearly two decades of fighting.
Representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban kicked off a
historic first round of U.S.-brokered talks in Qatar’s capital nearly
two weeks backago. But as the two teams wrangle over the agenda and
framework for talks that are likely to drag out for months, if not
longer, both factions have accused the other of ramping up attacks
against their people in recent days.
The Afghan government has called for an immediate cease-fire as a first
priority of the talks. The Taliban, whose greatest leverage is the
ability to inflict violence, has so far refused.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani repeated that call Wednesday in a speech
to the United Nations General Assembly, saying the U.N. had a crucial
role to play in helping the Kabul government uphold their shared values
at the Doha peace talks with the Islamist group.
“At those talks, the Afghan people have a clear and urgent priority: a
cease-fire,” Mr. Ghani said. “An urgent end to the violence will more
than anything else give us a chance to progress.”
On Wednesday, Afghan officials said overnight Taliban attacks on
security checkpoints in southern Afghanistan killed at least 28 Afghan
policemen. The insurgents have killed dozens of government security
personnel and nearly 100 civilians in several attacks over the past two
weeks, officials say.
Government forces, meanwhile, continue to target the Taliban. Airstrikes
on the group accidentally killed as many as 24 civilians in the northern
province of Kunduz on Saturday, according to news reports. The Afghan
Ministry of Defense said it was investigating claims of civilian deaths.
In Doha, Qatar, U.S. and Taliban leaders signed a deal that aims to end
years of fighting. Photo: Hussein Sayed/Associated Press
The attacks highlight how neither party is willing to cede ground
without concessions from the other side.
Initial friction isn’t unusual in thorny peace processes. Peace talks in
Syria have been stranded for years. The Yemeni peace process hasn’t
moved beyond the initial stage. The Colombian government and FARC rebels
took nearly four years to strike peace.
Nevertheless, the violence at home adds pressure on both the negotiating
teams in Doha to find common ground—initially on two divisive issues.
The Taliban wants its deal with the U.S. in February to form the basis
of its talks with the government. That means if the U.S. reneges on its
pledges, the insurgents aren’t committed to continuing talks with Kabul.
The Afghan government, which wasn’t part of that deal, wants the
insurgents to adhere also to an Afghan-U. S. declaration that makes a
commitment to negotiation and permanent cease-fire a prerequisite for a
The U.S.-Taliban deal involves a phased withdrawal over 14 months of all
American soldiers from Afghanistan as part of President Trump’s efforts
to reduce America’s military footprint in the region ahead of the Nov. 3
elections. In exchange, the Taliban pledged to prevent al Qaeda and
other terrorist organizations from operating in Afghanistan and to
engage in negotiations with the Kabul government.
The Taliban also insists that the Sunni Hanafi school of thought should
form the legal basis for the negotiations. The government worries that
without a reference to nondiscrimination of its sizable Shiite minority
and other religions, this will exclude parts of the Afghan population
that enjoy protection in the Afghan constitution.
The Taliban have revealed little about their end goal, beyond a
withdrawal of foreign forces and that Afghanistan must be ruled by
Islamic law, despite the fact that Afghanistan’s constitution already
dictates that no law can contravene Islam.
“At the moment, unfortunately, the level of violence is very high. The
number of security incidents initiated by the Taliban in different parts
of the country has increased, not decreased,” Abdullah Abdullah, the
head of the government negotiating team, said Tuesday in a virtual
meeting organized by the Council on Foreign Relations.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the government was responsible
for the uptick in violence by continuing operations to build new check
The continuing violence is a reminder of the scars—emotional and
physical—that the two delegations carry with them into the talks. Fawzia
Koofi, one of three women in the government delegation, arrived in Doha
with her injured arm in a cast after surviving a recent attempt on her life.
“It’s hard emotionally, but we have to find a way,” said Nader Nadery, a
senior member of the Afghan government negotiation team whose nephew was
killed in a Taliban attack days before the peace talks in Doha began.
The Afghan war began with the U.S.-led invasion in response to the Sept.
11, 2001, terrorist attacks that al Qaeda orchestrated from the country,
then ruled by the Taliban. It has claimed tens of thousands of Afghan
lives and destroyed hospitals, schools and other infrastructure.
In his speech at the U.N., Mr. Ghani, the Afghan president, said even a
deal with the insurgents wouldn’t be enough to bring lasting peace to
“For sustainable peace in Afghanistan, we must get to the root of the
terrorism problem blighting our region, and address it as the global
phenomenon and threat that it is.”
Write to Sune Engel Rasmussen at sune.rasmussen-at-wsj.com
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