Masoom Stanekzai, the government’s chief peace negotiator, confirmed on Twitter that Fawzia Koofi, a fellow negotiator, was attacked and wounded on the Kabul-Parwan road on Friday evening.
Stanekzai tweeted, “Ms. Fawzia Koofi was attacked by unknown individuals and injured… [her] health condition is good, and it is not concerning.”
A member of the government’s peace negotiating team was attacked by gunmen with the intra-Afghan talks with the Taliban in Qatar, scheduled to begin in the coming days.
While some have attributed the attack to the Taliban, the group has rejected responsibility for the attack
No other terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan have not claimed responsibility for the attack.
Shaharzad Akbar, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), criticized the “horrific” attack and asked for the perpetrators to be held accountable.
“Worrying pattern of targeted attacks that can negatively impact confidence in peace process,” she tweeted.
The incident comes as Special Operations Coprs reported that Taliban attacked an army checkpoint in Kabul’s Shakardara district on Friday night.
A reporter tweeted: “Currently, there is a fierce battle between the Taliban and the military in Kabul’s Shakardara district… The Taliban have reportedly attacked the district from the Ghorband Mountains.”
A number of students in Takhar University raised the Taliban flag on campus, on Friday night. The university responded by expelling those who were responsible.
But President Ashraf Ghani maintains that the Afghan security forces are still on defensive mode and are not conducting any military operations against the Taliban.
The cost of peace in Afghanistan
If the attack on a member of the government’s negotiating team was carried out by the Taliban, it demonstrates more than even that the group has no will for peace and intension to hold a dialogue with the Afghan government.
Although the group’s political representatives in the Qatar office are following the negotiation process, the military leadership on the battlefield do not seem to follow the same principles.
There has been no reduction in violence since the signing of the U.S. peace agreement with the Taliban in February – violence and war have intensified.
So, is the escalation of such violence and attacks on members of the government’s negotiating team part of the cost of peace in Afghanistan?
As President Ghani wrote in an opinion piece for The Washington Post, about the cost of peace in Afghanistan: “In 2018, we knew peace would be costly, but we did not know what those costs would be. We do know now, and we have paid heavily.”
The president then goes on to cite the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners, without giving the victims justice or healing for their families, as part of the cost of peace in Afghanistan. The entire process was done without the consent of the victims and under intense international scrutiny and pressure.
Ghani then also reminds that there is no guarantee that the released Taliban would not be returning to the battlefronts.
“Assurances will no longer be enough to propel the peace process forward,” Ghani writes, adding it was now time for the Taliban to sit across from the Afghan representatives “in earnest” to reach a political solution and to declare a comprehensive ceasefire.
“We acknowledge the Taliban as part of our reality, and we are solidly committed to reaching a political deal that accommodates this reality. The Taliban must, in turn, acknowledge the changed reality of today’s Afghanistan.”
However, this has not been reciprocated completely by the Taliban as their more recent statements show.
The group’s spokesperson continued to call the Afghan government the “Kabul administration” and said it “does not recognize the Kabul administration as a government but views it as western imported structure working for the continuation of American occupation.”
This shows that the Taliban has not made any changes to their approach, beliefs and fundamental values regarding Afghanistan – be it in the political sphere or issues of women’s rights.
The same Taliban spokesperson also gave an interview with a major TV news station and said, “All the titles and honours of the last 20 years have been rejected, such as Marshall for Dostum and Fahim, national hero, martyr of peace, martyr of national unity. If Afghanistan is to have a national hero, for us and the Mujahideen of Afghanistan, the national hero is Haqqani, not [Ahmad Shah] Massoud.”
Release of prisoners and escalation of violence
The Americans have been discussing peace between the Afghan government and the Taliban for over two years. Finally, in February, the Doha peace deal was signed between the U.S. and the Taliban in Qatar.
One of the terms of the agreement was the U.S.’ commitment to the Taliban that 5,000 of their fighters would be released from Afghan government prisons. As a result, the Taliban would also need to reduce violence and release 1,000 Afghan government prisoners.
In practice, however, the process of releasing Taliban prisoners became complicated and lengthy, and violence by the Taliban intensified against security forces and the Afghan people.
As Ghani wrote, “Over the past five months, while the Afghan security forces maintained a defensive posture, the Taliban and associated terrorist groups (which the Taliban has yet to publicly renounce) killed or wounded 12,279 Afghan security forces and civilians.”
Since the Loya Jirga’s decision, the government is now close to meeting the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners, but there appears to be a link between the release of the group’s fighters and the escalation of violence.
Many of the prisoners released so far are “murderers and assassins, and some have links to Al Qaeda” which was a group that the U.S. originally went to war with.
But Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation, has pushed for the release of all Taliban prisoners, as mandated by the list. This has had a profound effect on the Taliban’s fighting spirit.
Daoud Naji, senior political adviser to the Office of the National Security Council (NSC), said Khalilzad may be exploiting U.S. President Donald Trump’s ignorance of world politics, to work for the Taliban rather than the government. Naji tweeted that Khalilzad’s efforts to free Haji Bashir Noorzai, a Taliban prisoner, and former drug lord called Pablo Escobar of the Middle East.
“Trump does not know the complexities of the Middle East and South Asia… Trump is ignorant of the turbulent region… and Zalmay Khalilzad is using exactly this ignorance.”
In the most optimistic situation, the release of Taliban prisoners is still costly, as each has killed scores of security forces and civilians, but their release is no guarantee of peace.
However, one cannot discount the dozen other terrorist groups who remain active in Afghanistan and continue the war.
Contributed by Zackaria Noori; Edited by Anugya Chitransh