SRINAGAR: Donald Trump had decided to leave Afghanistan by May 1, but his successor, Joe Biden decided to come clean out of the endless war after 20 years by September 11. The US Central Command (CENTCOM) has already said they have removed for destruction some 60 planeloads of gear and about 1300 pieces of equipment from Afghanistan.
With US troops leaving, so are the allies, NATO. Overall six per cent of withdrawal has taken place. On May 1, the allied forces transferred a major facility at Helmand to the Afghan forces, a cannabis growing region that has seen massive fighting with the Taliban. The withdrawal is taking place amid escalating violence. Unlike foreigners, the Taliban have started targeting the country’s security set up. Reports suggest the battles are going on in seven provinces between the two sides.
In anticipation of the withdrawal, the US had brokered a long dialogue between the Taliban and other sections of Afghan society at Doha. Its outcome is still not known.
Now with the world’s two super-power the desert nation, the situation is quite explosive. The erstwhile USSR invaded Kabul in 1979 and left in 1988 for its complete unmaking. Afghans were supported by the US. In wake of 9/11 in 2001, the US attacked Afghanistan and with the help of NATO forces retained it for 20 years at huge costs. Now it will be leaving on the attack’s twentieth anniversary. This has started Afghanistan to bleed again.
From Kabul based Tolo News Agency usually being used by the Western media for its impartiality, here are some of the small despatches that tell the story of happenings in the not-so-distant neighbourhood.
In Kabul Girls’ School, Bombing Toll Goes To 53
The death toll in multiple blasts outside a girls’ school in Kabul on Saturday afternoon rose to over 50 (it is now 53), the Ministry of Interior said on Sunday, adding that more than 100 others were wounded in the incident.
The incident started with a car bomb explosion outside Sayed -ul- Shuhada High School in west of Kabul on Saturday afternoon and was followed by two rocket attacks as sources explained.
The Ministry of Interior says three blasts happened near the school: a car bomb attack and two IED blasts that were planted in the area.
The death toll in the blasts might increase, Tariq Arian, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said on Sunday.
No group or individual have so far claimed responsibility for the blasts while the Taliban denied involvement in the attack by condemning it in a tweet.
The incident happened when students were leaving the school.
“A car bomb blast happened first, and then two more explosions occurred near the girls school in Kabul,” said Ibrahim, a schoolteacher. He added that the majority of victims are girls.
The attack was condemned by the Afghan government and some diplomatic missions in Kabul as an act of terror.
The US State Department in a statement condemned the bombing and called for an immediate end to violence and the senseless targeting of innocent civilians.
“We will continue to support and partner with the people of Afghanistan, who are determined to see to it that the gains of the past two decades aren’t erased,” the statement said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “strongly condemned the horrific attack near a school in Kabul, Afghanistan, today, which killed and injured scores of civilians, including many girls.”
“Those responsible for this heinous crime must be held accountable,” Guterres said. He underlined the urgency of ending the violence in Afghanistan and achieving a peaceful settlement of the conflict.”
British Embassy in Kabul it is inconceivable that anyone could consider students at school as a legitimate target.
“We call for an immediate end to this violence before any more innocent children lose their lives,” it said.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said his country strongly condemns the horrific attack at a school in Kabul, Afghanistan, killing innocent children.
“We stand by the people and government of Afghanistan in their fight against terrorism and will continue to support Afghanistan on its path to peace, progress and prosperity,” Qureshi said.
“The targeting of civilians, including school children attending the Syed Al-Shahda school for girls in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood of Kabul, in a bomb attack is a blatant and despicable violation of international humanitarian law. We condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms,” EU said in a statement.
“Those responsible must be held to account, and those that support their actions should feel total shame. The attack is an attack not only on the Afghan population, but on all those worldwide that respect the equal rights of women and girls, and on all those that value education and the right of children to forge their futures,” it said.
The EU has called for “an immediate ceasefire in Afghanistan, in which a lasting peace can be achieved through an inclusive, negotiated political settlement among Afghans.”
“Our priority remains to support a prosperous, stable and secure Afghanistan, where the human rights of all – including women, children and minorities – are protected and respected,” EU said.
Amid Mourning, Violence Grips Several Provinces
In the latest incident of violence, at least 27 security force members were killed in Ghazni city in the past two days.
Lawmakers from Ghazni said that three government check posts have fallen to the Taliban in the past few days. Local officials in Baghlan said that hundreds of people have taken up arms to fight the Taliban.
“We have launched an operation code-named Pamir 302 which is aimed to suppressing and repelling the plans by the (enemy),” said Gen. Abbas Tawakoli, the deputy commander of 209 Shaheen Army Corps.
“We are not in the defensive position, we are on the offensive mode. There have been massive progress in Baghlan and Ghazni since yesterday,” Afghan Chief of Army Staff Gen Yasin Zia said.
Alongside Ghazni city, Khawja Omari, Jaghato, Waghaz and Khogyani districts have also faced deadly battles in the past days.
“The people are ready to fight alongside their security forces,” said Faraidoon, the commander of public uprising force in Baghlan.
“Fighting has escalated significantly. Currently, clashes are underway there and many families are under siege,” said Abdul Manan, a resident of Arezo village in Ghazni.
“If sufficient equipment and resources are not sent to Ghazni, if there are no airstrikes and commando operations, I fear that Ghazni city will collapse,” said MP Arif Rahmani.
But, the Afghan Ministry of Defense said that offensive operations have been launched to eliminate Taliban in areas under their control.
Both parties the Afghan government and the Taliban have claimed of inflicting devastating toll on each other.
Reports say that civilians have also been killed during these clashes.
The Defense Ministry said that at least 250 Taliban fighters were killed in at least seven provinces in the last 24 hours.
What Is the Taliban Saying?
Taliban does not intend to seize power through military struggle, said Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, a top negotiator for the Taliban in Doha, as the timeline for a US-proposed peace conference on Afghanistan in Turkey approaches.
Stanekzai made the remarks during a virtual meeting with envoys from the UN, Norway, Sweden, Germany, US and the UK.
Stanekzai clarified that forming a coalition government was not a solution to the conflict, stating that there is need for a strong centralized Islamic government in which the rights of every Afghan citizen is protected, not a few.
“The Islamic Emirate (the term used for Taliban movement) does not accept a coalition government. There is a need for a strong centralized Islamic system, a system in which every Afghan see their rights, not a few people, a system in which the rights of every Afghan national is reflected,” said Stanekzai.
He also said that the conditional release of 7,000 Taliban prisoners and the removal of names of Taliban leaders from the UN blacklist were a key to move the peace process forward.
“Whenever a member of our delegation wants to go and meet our leaders or military commanders, it takes them days and this causes disruption in the peace process,” said Stanekzai, indirectly asking the removal of Taliban’s names from the UN blacklist.
The Taliban negotiator also assured that Afghan women will be allowed to play a role in the political process of the country and that freedom of speech will be operating within the framework of Islamic Sharia.
“There is a contrast in the Taliban’s words and actions. If the Taliban really wants to prove their words true, then they must engage in purposeful talks and announce a ceasefire,” said Ilyas Wahdat, the former governor of Paktika.
“Republic should be supported, both Afghans and foreigners must support the republic. It is very important,” said MP Abrarullah Murad.
What Is US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad Saying?
US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on May 7 said that the United States will stand with Afghans who support the Republic if the Taliban do not choose peace.
He made the remarks after concluding his trip to the region in which he visited Tashkent, Doha Kabul and Dushanbe. He said that he attended a meeting with their allies in Berlin.
Echoing a joint statement released after the meeting in Berlin on Friday, Khalilzad said in a tweet that “if the Taliban do not choose peace, a future based on consensus and compromise, then we will stand with Afghans who strive to keep the Republic intact.” But he reiterated that “Republic political unity is a must.”
Khalilzad said that there is a unique international consensus for peace, rooted in the support for a negotiated settlement, an end to violence, and rejection of any attempt to impose a military solution.
Afghan leaders from all sides of the conflict should seize this opportunity and negotiate a political settlement to end their 40-year long war, he said.
International consensus does not stop at peace, he said, adding that the world remains steadfast in its support of Afghanistan as the country enters a new phase.
This comes as special envoys and special representatives of the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, NATO, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States in a statement emphasized the need for continued international support to Afghan National Defense and Security Forces and said it will be necessary to ensure Afghanistan can defend itself against internal and external threats.
The envoys affirmed their commitment to UNSC resolution 2513 (2020) and emphasized that they oppose the establishment in Afghanistan of any government by force which would constitute a threat to regional stability.
The envoys acknowledged the widespread and sincere demand of the Afghan people for an end to the war and a fair and lasting peace and confirmed that such a peace can only be achieved through an inclusive, negotiated political settlement among Afghans, according to the statement that was published by Germany’s Foreign Office on Friday.
This comes as violence has increased across the country following the Biden administration’s announcement on the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan. The announcement has been accompanied by fears and concerns about the country’s future once all international troops leave Afghanistan.