It is almost given that as snow melts opening space for wider conflict there is noticeable spike in Taliban attacks on the government positions. But the stridency their annual spring offensive acquired this year is unprecedented.
After pushing out the government forces from some critical areas in Helmand they have now besieged Afghanistan’s fifth largest city and provincial capital, the city of Kunduz.
They have already made critical gains in the area by capturing two nearby towns in just two days. But what makes their territorial advances most spectacular is the meticulously planned attack on the Afghan parliament in Kabul on Monday.
First a car bomb was detonated in front of parliament building, having reached that point after dodging a couple of security checkpoints. Then a group of fighters stormed the building – only to be cut down by an alert security guard who cut down with single burst at least three of the attackers.
All six attackers and two passers-by were killed in the incident. Looked into incisively the episode brings out in sharp relief the complexity of ongoing Afghan imbroglio in its myriad dimensions, both negative and positive.
For one, at the time of the attack the parliament was in session to approve nomination of the reputedly neutral and Afghan High Peace Council’s secretary, Masoom Stanekzi, as defence minister, jointly fielded by the Ghani-Abdullah national unity government after 10 months of intense for and against argumentation.
Not that the Afghan armed forces were in need of their own specified head, he was also acceptable to a section of Taliban, whom he had met in the Chinese city of Urumqi last month. The meeting was facilitated by Pakistan, and has now been acknowledged by PM’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz who has planned one more such meeting later this month.
That means some groups of Taliban are pursuing the option of co-existing and power-sharing with the Afghan government. That another section of Taliban is opposed to Stanekzi’s appointment as defence minister is aptly reflected from its almost instant ownership of responsibility of the raid on parliament. If the unity of Taliban is cracking up, this divergence may be one more proof.
We are not here to question the merit of Afghanistan’s UN ambassador Zahir Tanin’s take that there is “an unprecedented convergence” of Afghan Taliban, so-called Islamic State, other insurgent groups and some 7,000 foreign fighters.
But the fact is that as some Taliban fighters pledged allegiance to the Daesh the deputy leader of Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, warned Daesh chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi against waging a “parallel insurgency in Afghanistan”.
As to who is the real, genuine opposition in Afghanistan – Afghan Taliban or the ISIL supporters – the latest spike in violence may well be part of the exercise to throw up the right answer. The two are not on the same page. No doubt the daring attack on the parliament building is indicative of the reality that the post-Nato engagement Afghanistan remains insecure; but the attack was effectively checked and all six raiders were mowed down by a security detail on duty.
That the commitment of the Afghan troops to their country is undivided and strong, as against frequent desertions in the past, is a fact that has found its best expression in their response to the attack. Yet both the civilian and military components of the Afghan government deserve extensive help – political and material – to strengthen its writ on the land. But for the entry of Islamic State the Taliban would have moved quicker towards the negotiating table to hammer out some framework for a lasting peace in their country.
It is the government in Kabul and Afghanistan’s neighbours, particularly Pakistan, Iran and China who can help Afghan Taliban preserve their identity as genuine stakeholders and help speed up peace parleys.
The text appeared as Editorial of Business Recorder today.