New Fighting Continues to Thwart Efforts of Resolution in Afghanistan
Afghanistan's warring factions have launched themselves into another devastating series of attacks and counterattacks that is bound to further undermine any prospects for a political solution to the country's ongoing civil war. Following the breakdown on July 20 of U.N.-mediated peace negotiations between the ruling Taliban and the opposition alliance, which controls the northeastern 10 percent of the country, the Taliban launched a major offensive in a bid to crush the opposition once and for all. But the opposition retaliated on Thursday by shelling Taliban military bases in Kabul. 130 people are reported dead so far.
Peace efforts, brokered by U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, failed to achieve a cease-fire and avert an anticipated Taliban summer offensive. Before leaving Afghanistan on July 25, Brahimi made a last minute plea to the Taliban to renew peace talks, a request to which the opposition had already agreed. The Taliban refused. The BBC reported that the Taliban had however assured Brahimi they would honor an earlier agreement to end military conflict as a means to solve internal disputes in Afghanistan.
Earlier peace talks were attended by the "six plus two" countries that have an interest in the conflict -- Pakistan, Iran, China, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan plus the United States and Russia, all of whom agreed to stop supporting factions in Afghanistan. According to BBC regional analyst Pam O'Toole in a July 28 report, Iran, Russia and several Central Asian states have in the past supported the opposition, while the Taliban have had Pakistani support. Although Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reiterated his country's support for peace in Afghanistan during a special meeting with Brahimi on Thursday, many believe Taliban forces are bolstered by Pakistani and Arab mercenaries. And Brahimi last week publicly decried the continued influx of arms to fuel the conflict.
The recent Taliban offensive, which according to Agence France Presse (AFP) on July 29 caught the opposition by surprise, seems inconsistent with previous Taliban commitments to finding a peaceful solution to the conflict. And according to Pakistan's News Network International (NNI) on July 29, the opposition accuses the Taliban of willfully undermining the peace talks.
Given the present circumstances, peace might be the best option for the opposition alliance. The only alternative would be to wage a tenuous war of attrition that, in the end, could very well not favor it. But working against the opposition in any peace negotiation is the Taliban's previously demonstrated aversion to power sharing. And as noted by a western military official quoted by AFP on July 29, if the Taliban could achieve a final victory over the opposition, foreign countries might "accept the Taliban as leaders of Afghanistan, give them a U.N. seat and deal with them officially." By securing a total victory over the opposition -- something the Taliban seems to think it can do with its superior numbers and equipment -- the Taliban would end formal opposition to its military rule both domestically and internationally.
But the Taliban's recent reinvigoration of the war effort could be short-sited given Afghanistan's diverse ethnic makeup. The Taliban comprise mainly ethnic Pashtoons, who are only 38 percent of Afghanistan's population, while the opposition includes Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and Turkmen.
Even if the Pashtoon Taliban won the war -- the prospect of which the United Nations has warned the Taliban is impossible -- deep ethnic divides would remain. A negotiated peace settlement however, would represent the inclusion of all ethnic groups, a necessary step in building a stable Afghanistan.
Zakariya Wright is a staff writer at iviews.com
Topics: Afghanistan, Conflicts And War, Taliban