KABUL – On Sunday night, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani hailed last week’s peace talks with Taliban officials as a major achievement since the fall of the hardline Islamist regime nearly 14 years ago.
That remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: the violence is far from over.
An hour before Ghani spoke, just before the evening call to prayer during this holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, a suicide car bomb killed 33 people and wounded 10 in the southeast of the country. The attack – close to a U.S. base in Khost city that was once used by the CIA – was one of the deadliest this year. Twelve children were among those killed, the United Nations said.
On Monday, two small explosions rocked a busy neighborhood in Kabul – also shortly before the evening prayers, as people were shopping to celebrate the Eid-al-Fitr holiday this weekend marking the end of Ramadan. Fortunately, no one was killed or injured.
No militant group has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Khost or Kabul.
But in other areas, the Taliban has stepped up its attacks since the talks were held last Tuesday night in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. On the day of the discussions, the militants staged two suicide attacks in Kabul — one against a NATO-led forces and one aimed at Afghan intelligence. In the days after, there has been a wave of attacks in the northern provinces of Faryab, Baghlan and Takhar – part of an ongoing push this year by the Taliban to seize northern areas.
On Friday night, a large number of Taliban fighters, including three suicide bombers, attacked Afghan security forces' outposts and district center in Dai Chopan district of Zabul province, according to the province’s deputy police chief, Ghulam Jilani Farahi. Five members of the Afghan security forces were killed in clashes, along with 11 Taliban fighters.
And Monday night, an explosion rocked a mosque in Pul-i-Khumri, the capital of Baghlan Province, wounding 25, according the nation’s deputy interior minister, Ayoub Salangi Sai.
Some analysts say the Taliban is trying to place itself in a stronger bargaining position. But it’s also quite likely that many Taliban commanders simply don’t want to discuss peace with the government, which they consider illegitimate and a puppet of the West. The Taliban today is a fractured movement, and many factions operate independently of the central command based in the Pakistani city of Quetta.
There are also signs that the Taliban leadership itself is split over the decision to have talks with the government. A day after the talks ended, an article on the Taliban’s Voice of Jihad Web site declared that the leadership was against the negotiations, and that it was an attempt by the Pakistanis, who organized the talks, to hoodwink the Ghani government. The article said that Pakistan had limited influence over the Taliban and that no senior Taliban figures were at the talks.
In their only official communication since the talks, the Taliban stressed that only its political office in Qatar has the authority to engage in any peace negotiations, further suggesting a possible disagreement over the way forward.
On the ground, men like Faizullah Ghairat who are on the frontlines of the deepening war could care less about the talks. “I don't know whether peace talks have affected the security situation or not,” said Ghairat, the police chief of Khost. “But I can definitely say the fighting has dramatically increased this season.”
On Monday, hours after he praised the peace talks, Ghani’s office released a statement condemning “in the strongest possible terms” the attack in Khost. “President Ghani said that the enemies of Afghanistan do not hesitate to shed the blood of our innocent people even in the holy month of Ramadan, which is a month of prayers and mercy,” the statement read.
The next round of peace talks are scheduled to take place after the end of Ramadan, quite possibly as early as next week.