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Afghan Peace talks are faltering amid surging violence

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Message Abdus-Sattar Ghazali
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Growing uncertainty over peace talks with the Taliban, a drumbeat of targeted killings and the looming withdrawal of U.S. troops have raised tension in Kabul to a fever pitch, prompting calls for President Ashraf Ghani to step down and an interim government to take over, Washington Post reported Thursday.

Supporters of the idea say it would offer a better chance of settling the 20-year war in Afghanistan and ending the relentless bloodshed, given that the Taliban refuse to recognize Ghani's government as legitimate. Opponents call it a dangerous, irresponsible gambit that would benefit an assortment of opportunistic politicians eager to grab a share in power.

Ghani has repeatedly insisted that he will remain in office for his full five-year term and see the peace talks to fruition. But a new round of negotiations, which have made almost no headway since they started in September, stalled this week, as two of the top Taliban negotiators failed to return to the talks in Qatar after visiting Pakistan for consultations, according to Pamela Constable of the Washington Post.

The group's spokesman in Doha, the Qatari capital, tweeted Saturday that the negotiating teams were still working on preparing a substantive agenda for the talks. But delegates to the talks from Kabul said the process had been further slowed by the unexplained absence of the top two Taliban negotiators, Abdul Ghani Baradar and Abdul Hakim Ishaqzai. Baradar, a founder of the Taliban movement, spent eight years in prison in Pakistan but was released in 2018, at the United States' request, to participate in the peace process.

Complicating matters for the Afghan government is a Friday deadline for U.S. troops in Afghanistan to be reduced from 5,000 to about 2,500. This was the chief demand of the militants, who signed a separate deal with U.S. officials in February, the Washington Post report said, adding:

"The troop reduction could cause the Afghan government to lose much of its remaining leverage in the talks. Ghani's position was already weakened when he agreed to release about 5,000 imprisoned Taliban fighters under U.S. pressure to seal the February pact."

Pentagon officials were quoted as saying that the troop drawdown was expected to proceed as planned, even though it is widely opposed in Congress. A recently enacted defense policy bill bars the U.S. government from using funds to pay for it without a "comprehensive interagency assessment of the risks and impacts" of leaving only a minimal U.S. military presence in the country.

Another stumbling block in the talks is the continued high level of Taliban attacks. A recent spate of unclaimed targeted killings, including shootings and car bombs, has left several dozen civic and democratic activists, journalists, government officials and others dead. Afghan officials have blamed the Taliban for the attacks, and U.S. military officials made the same accusation last week, according to Washington Post.

Another base attack in Afghanistan hushed up to hurry U.S. exit

Tellingly, the Foreign Affairs said Wednesday, eleven years after one of the largest losses of life in CIA history at a notorious military base in southeastern Afghanistan, Camp Chapman was attacked again in early December, a seemingly blatant violation of the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement.

Yet unlike the prior four big attacks on Camp Chapman, located northeast of the city of Khost, last December's deadly assault went unreported and unacknowledged. The attack killed four members of the Khost Protection Force, or KPF--a CIA-trained and equipped militia that maintains an iron grip on the province--as well as three Afghan soldiers and at least six civilians, Lynzy Billing of the Foreign Policy said.

But neither local nor international media reported on the incident. Neither Washington nor the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan shared any information about the attack publicly or in response to requests. Immediately following the attack, both the Afghan Army and the Khost police were denied access to the scene. The Afghan Ministry of the Interior and the Criminal Technique department in Kabul both said they had no documentation of the incident. A spokesperson for the governor of Khost said that "the KPF did not share the information from the blast with us."

The attack came about six weeks before the United States' deadline to drawdown its troops in Afghanistan--and underscores both the security vacuum those departing troops leave behind, and the many ways in which the Taliban appear to be violating the terms of their 2020 peace agreement with the Trump administration. The deafening silence around the attack on Camp Chapman is part of a pattern of lack of transparency and information about the U.S. mission in the country, as Washington is increasingly turning a blind eye to a surge in terrorist attacks in recent months, including attacks against bases long associated with U.S. forces, Lynzy Billing pointed out.

Camp Chapman was one of several U.S. military bases where the CIA placed operatives and special forces as part of its mission to dismantle al Qaeda and capture or kill Osama bin Laden, ideally situated near the porous border with Pakistan that allowed insurgents to move between the two countries with ease, Billing said, adding:

"During the last decade, Chapman's prominence as a U.S. base--and hub of KPF operations--made it a repeated target of terror attacks, with deadly assaults in 2012, 2015, and 2017, for two of which the Taliban claimed responsibility. Although the Taliban denied responsibility for the third, they subsequently claimed to have launched an internal investigation into the attack."

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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