Yearender: Security remains daunting challenge to Afghan gov't in 2018

Friday, 2018-12-28 10:13:01
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A damaged vehicle is seen after a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan March 17, 2018. (Photo: Reuters)
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Looking back at this year, security problems have topped all challenges facing the government in insurgency-plagued Afghanistan as militancy and counter-militancy have claimed countless lives including more than 8,000 civilians.

The beleaguered Afghan government, while keeping military operations ongoing, has stepped up its peace efforts to bring the Taliban outfit to the negotiating table to seek a political settlement to the country's lingering crisis, but much has been in vain as the insurgent group has utterly spurned the offer for talks.

Rejecting the government-initiated peace talks, the Taliban outfit has stepped up its anti-government activities across the conflict-riddled country.

BLOODIEST YEAR

In conflict-hit Afghanistan, according to officials, more than 20 insurgent groups are active in fighting the government in Kabul.

Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has reportedly said that 20 insurgent groups exist in Afghanistan and the most deadly ones include the Taliban, Islamic State, al-Qaida and the Haqqani network that are engaged in subversive activities in the country.

Taliban militants, according to the outfit's spokesman Zabihullah Majahid, are in control of 72 percent of the country's territory, a claim rebuffed by the government sources as baseless propaganda.

However, the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in its report released in November that the Taliban outfit had expanded its hold since the drawdown of the US-led coalition forces in late 2014 and the country's security responsibility was largely passed over to the Afghan forces in early 2015.

The Afghan government, according to the SIGAR report, currently controls 55.5 percent of the country's more than 400 districts.

Nevertheless, Afghan officials rejected the report, stressing that the militant groups' hold is limited and only restricted to some rural areas.

Taliban militants briefly overran Farah City, the capital of western Farah province and Ghazni City, the capital of eastern Ghazni province in May and August respectively.

A report released by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in October documented 2,798 civilian deaths and 5,252 injuries in the first nine months of the outgoing year.

Although there is no report about the exact number of government forces' casualties in 2018, on an average basis according to security officials, 20 security personnel lost their lives each day in Afghanistan.

President Ghani revealed in November that 28,529 Afghan security personnel had lost their lives since 2015, with the majority of them reportedly being killed in 2018.

Expressing concern over the increasing civilian casualties in Afghanistan, the United Nations Security Council in a statement very recently called upon all actors involved in the Afghan conflict to respect international laws and protect civilians in the war-weary country.

"No doubt, the year 2018 was the bloodiest year since the collapse of the Taliban reign in Afghanistan 17 years ago as anti-government militants, especially the Taliban and the Islamic State groups, have intensified activities elsewhere in the country," renown political and military analyst General (Rtrd) Atiqullah Omarkhil told Xinhua.

Both Afghan security forces and civilians, according to the analyst, have hugely suffered due to the increasing insurgency in the country in the outgoing year.

PEACE EFFORTS

President Ghani offered unconditional talks with the Taliban group in February, saying his administration would, among others, recognize the armed group as a legitimate political party if the group gives up its militant activities and join the government-initiated peace process to find a negotiated settlement to the country's lingering crisis.

However, the hardliner Taliban outfit has rebuffed the offer, claiming that the Afghan government "has no power to make the decision" and therefore it wants to hold direct talks with the United States as it is a major entity in the Afghan war.

Amid efforts to make some peace in Afghanistan, both the Taliban and government forces observed a three-day ceasefire on the occasion of Eidul Fitr, the second largest religious festival in June this year, which enabled hundreds of thousands of armed insurgents to come to cities and visit their families and friends.

According to Taliban sources and media reports, the armed outfit has twice held direct talks with US envoys in Qatar's capital city of Doha. The third round of talks was held between the two sides in the absence of the Afghan government delegation in the United Arab Emirates on December 17, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Majahid confirmed.

However, a Taliban delegation sat down at the same table with a delegation from the Afghan peace body, the High Peace Council, in a meeting hosted by Russia in Moscow in November. But the meeting failed to facilitate holding direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban outfit.

Omarkhil welcomed the recent impetus in the ongoing peace process and said with optimism that the "current regional cooperation, including the support of the United States and China for the peace efforts, would help make the Afghan peace and national reconciliation process successful."

Afghanistan, Pakistan and China have agreed at a recent meeting in Kabul to enhance trilateral cooperation to support Afghanistan's peace process.

Xinhua