Kabul despatches International

For Afghans, there is no peace in sight

“There’s no government control in the area we live. No government here; not a single government force,” says 45-year old Elham [name changed] who lives in a Province less than 80 km outside Kabul. “There are Taliban [fighters] outside [my house] patrolling the streets as we speak right now,” he tells during a telephonic interview.

Hugh swathes of Mr. Elham’s Province have been under Taliban control for more than a decade. Mr. Elham, who is employed in public service, lives in constant fear. “Only the district Governor’s compound is under safety with government forces, the rest is all under Taliban control,” he says.

Lately, though, there has been some hope for peace, following the latest olive branch extended by the Afghan government. After many failed attempts at peace talks, the government on February 28 put forward an offer “without preconditions” to negotiate a peace deal with the insurgent group. In exchange for ceasefire, the government is willing to offer Taliban with political recognition and release of prisoners, apart from passports and visas to the group’s members and their families, and office space in Kabul.

However, two weeks since Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer, the Taliban has only provided vague responses. In a recent statement on its website this week, the Taliban dismissed the ‘Kabul Process’, without rejecting the possibility of negotiations. It instead offered, once again, to start a dialogue with the U.S.. “The only way to bring effective peace in Afghanistan is to talk to those who have started this illegitimate war... and those who have taken away the rights of the Afghan nation are the tyrannical American invaders,” the statement read.

The Taliban has refused to recognise the Afghan government, often referring to it as a “puppet regime”. And earlier this year the group reached out to the U.S. government and its citizens in an open letter to find “peaceful resolution to the Afghan issue”.

Orzala Nemat, a senior researcher and scholar on Afghanistan, pointed out that while the Taliban accuses the Afghan government of being supported by its international partners, the insurgent group cannot claim total independence either. “If it was serving interest of the Afghans, and [its fighters] were ‘sons of soil’ as they call themselves, why would it kill Afghans and commit atrocities against us?” she questions.

No incentive to join talks?

Meanwhile, according to Mr. Elham, the local fighters in his village may not even be aware of the peace offer. “To my knowledge, I don’t believe the Taliban fighters here have heard about President Ghani’s peace offer,” he says. “I don’t think they even know what the ‘Kabul Process’ is,” he adds, reasoning that the fighters in his village are too low in the hierarchy to have a say in the matter. “The senior [Taliban] leaders [from his Province] might not accept the offer either because they already have control of the districts here,” he opines.

However, Ms. Nemat has a message to those Taliban fighters who would resist joining the peace talks, “They have to realise that they are also being killed in this war. And this is the best way to get out of this cycle of conflict,” she says, adding that the Taliban fighters need to understand this is not an Afghan-owned war. “Don’t surrender to the government, but surrender to peace,” she urges.

For Mr. Elham, who continues to witness and live under the Taliban regime 17-years after its collapse, neither victory, nor peace is in sight. “The war will intensify during the spring,” he adds with despair.

Ruchi Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Kabul

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Printable version | Oct 29, 2020 10:43:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/for-afghans-there-is-no-peace-in-sight/article23281016.ece

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