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Afghanistan races to clinch ceasefire pact, transition govt as Taliban close in on Kabul

The Taliban have told the government in Kabul that they will not negotiate until President Ashraf Ghani 'steps down'. 

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Kabul: Hectic discussions are on in Afghanistan to secure a negotiated settlement with the Taliban as the insurgents take control of two-thirds of the war-torn country and there is a real fear that capital Kabul could fall to their advancing fighters soon.

The urgent need is to work out a ceasefire arrangement with the Taliban, multiple sources told ThePrint Friday. On their part, the insurgents have told the government in Kabul that they will not negotiate until President Ashraf Ghani “steps down”. 

Indications from talks being held in the presidential Arg Palace are that Dr Adbullah Abdullah, who is now the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, may take over from Ghani and head a caretaker government or a transition government, in an effort to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table and chalk out a power-sharing deal. And more importantly, prevent Kabul from falling.

But such an arrangement, sources said, can take anywhere between “a day to three months” as Kabul believes that the dispensation replacing the elected government should be chosen by the people as well.

The Taliban have upped their ante as the US and other international forces look to withdraw their soldiers by the month-end after being in the country for 20 years. In the past eight days, the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001 before being dethroned by international forces as part of their war on terror, have taken over 18 provincial capitals across the length and breadth of Afghanistan, essentially “encircling” Kabul, said a source.

Starting from Zaranj city in Nimroz province, Sheberghan city in Jawzjan province and Kunduz city in Kunduz province, Aloqan city in Takhar province, to Sar-e-Pul city in the eponymous province, and Ghazni, Herat, Logar and Lashkargah, the Taliban insurgents have “swept village after village and capital after capital”. Kandahar, the second-largest Afghan city, has also fallen.

Also Read: Afghanistan urges world to act against Taliban ‘war crimes’, says ‘global security’ at stake

‘Can collapse any moment’

Multiple sources said the security situation in Kabul can “collapse any moment” if a ceasefire arrangement is not worked out with the Taliban.

As a result, nerves are fraying in the Afghan capital, which lies to the country’s east.

From hotel managers to cab drivers and women in beauty parlours, residents are worried about the days ahead. Many have been planning to or already leaving the city, exploring means to obtain a visa to any country that agrees to take them in, with several such instances flagged on social media as well.

As the onslaught of the Taliban continues through Afghanistan — reigniting the spectre of their iron-fisted rule during 1996-2001, with few rights for women and establishment of a strict Sharia-based Islamic emirate — the question on everyone’s lips is “Where is Peace?”

“Everything is in chaos in Kabul. Refugees are thronging every corner of the city. They have come from all across this war-ravaged country. People are scared. They are not getting any assurance from the government,” said a source who refused to be identified. “Who’s accountable, who is not, nobody knows. The Americans are leaving and they will make a safe exit but what about this country? 

“It all boils down to power… This is about ethnicities. The power has to remain within the Pashtuns,” said another source, adding that Kabul made an incorrect assessment after President Ghani and Abdullah’s visit to the US in July that the international forces will stay for a longer period.

But their assessment, source said, fell flat on its face when US President Joe Biden made it clear that his troops would make an exit by 31 August at all costs, handing the baton over to the Afghan forces, who seem to be now giving up in the face of the Taliban onslaught.

Also Read: Afghan govt, regional strongmen plan alliance to fight Taliban & protect Mazar-e-Sharif, northern areas

‘A failure at many levels’

The Afghan government Thursday made a push to accelerate the Doha peace talks and urged the international community to come forward, saying failure to act against theTaliban’s violence will prove detrimental to the entire world.

President Ghani is expected to address the nation in the next few days.  

“Although many Afghans and policymakers in the United States and European Union are surprised with the Taliban’s advances, unfortunately, the current situation was unavoidable; the Taliban surrounded most provincial capitals weeks before and waited for the right time to attack the cities,” Arash Yaqin, National Security Analyst at Washington-based Institute of World Politics, told ThePrint.

“Some local reports indicated that the Taliban didn’t wait but were actively lobbying Afghan ANDSF (Afghan National Defence and Security Forces) commanders and local government officials to surrender the cities. On the other hand, the Kabul government saw this not coming. Kabul counted exclusively on the ANDSF as the protector of the republic. However, last week, we saw that the Afghan forces have chosen to surrender or retreat rather than fight with the Taliban,” he said.

However, he added, “you can’t blame them”. “At the end of the day, like everything else, the quality and quantity of ANDSF have been overestimated both by Americans and by the Afghan government… Also important to mention that in a few provinces, the governors have chosen to make secret deals with the Taliban by avoiding the security forces to fight.” 

President Ghani and his NSC team have chosen not to support the local militia forces or provincial warlords “with the fear of losing central command control”, he added. “On the Taliban side, the leadership in Doha, who is still looking for international recognition, has chosen to resume the peace talks,” he added.

Arun K. Singh, a veteran diplomat who had taken the first flight to Kabul after the Taliban’s exit in November 2001, told ThePrint, “It is unfortunate that the situation has come to this. It reflects a failure at many levels. Clearly, there is failure of the US in not being able to create an enduring institutional and security structure in Afghanistan, despite an overwhelming presence for two decades.

“There is also failure of the Afghan leadership, in not being able to consolidate, come together and create mass public support for their leadership.”

But most of all, he added, “it is a failure of US’ Pakistan policy”. 

“Because of its dependence on Pakistan for movements of supplies for its military into Afghanistan, the US was never able to generate sufficient pressure on Pakistan to stop providing safe haven and support to the Taliban,” he said.

“It is also a tragedy for the Afghan people… There was a sense of relief among the people after the harsh rule of the Taliban regime. Only time will tell if we are to see a return to that dark past, or if the Taliban have also learnt their lessons and are noticing the repeated and concerted international messages that the Islamic emirate regime would not be acceptable, that a takeover by force would lack legitimacy, and they could return to their earlier international pariah status,” Singh said.

This report has been updated with new inputs

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also Read: Don’t forget us as we fight Taliban, says Afghan leader who thwarted Indian mission attack



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