As the discourse on the pullout of US-led Nato forces from Afghanistan continues, fears of a potentially mortal Taliban resurgence in the resultant vacuum are dangerously real. As many as 150 Afghan troops have been killed or injured in the last 24 hours in a surge of attacks by Taliban militants as foreign forces withdraw. Fighting is overwhelming as it rages in 26 of the country’s 34 provinces, and the casualties are “shockingly high”.
Indeed, the conflict has escalated as the United States seeks to buttress its operation to withdraw all remaining troops by September 11, making it quite clear that the Taliban has launched its assault taking advantage of the dwindling American engagement. On Monday, the militants seized Shahrak district of western Ghor province and forced Afghan troops to retreat to nearby villages after a heavy firefight, local officials said.
By all accounts the Taliban has stepped up its offensive against the people of the embattled country. A powerful car bomb targeting the police headquarters in the Khas Balkh district of Balkh province killed at least four people and wounded 50 more including civilians on Sunday. On the same day, Taliban fighters stormed the Qaisar district of northern Faryab province, killing and wounding dozens of Afghan security forces.
Government troops have launched an operation to recapture the strategic district of Nerkh in Wardak province that lies less than an hour’s drive from the capital Kabul, according to a defence ministry official who said: “In the past 24 hours, there were unfortunately 157 casualties among forces.” Beyond any recital of the mayhem must lie the political negotiations between the government and the Taliban.
The series of interactions have largely stalled as Washington pulls its troops out, 20 years after US bombing ejected the Taliban from power. More accurately, it was the search for the elusive Osama bin Laden in October 2001, a month after the catastrophe of 9/11. Attempts to “smoke him out” ~ the words of President George W Bush ~ made no headway in the caves of Tora Bora. After several rounds of talks in Doha, each side has accused the other of provoking and failing to halt attacks against civilians.
This must rank as the painful dichotomy in Afghanistan today. Indeed, hundreds of thousands of Afghans who had worked with foreign troops for the past two decades as interpreters and helpers are fearful that they will become targets of reprisal by the Taliban. The militants have dealt harshly with interpreters in the past.
Twenty years after, the Taliban is intent on entrenching its authority in the beleaguered country. The final price of a tragedy scripted two decades ago promises to be awesome, and such gains as Afghan society may have secured in the post-Taliban years are now under threat.