May 1, 2021
The so-called “extended” troika after talks in Doha on Friday called on the Ghani administration to enter into negotiations with the Taliban in a bid to accelerate a political solution to the conflict. However, just as the troika was releasing its statement, top Afghan government officials accused the Taliban and Pakistan of collaborating in a terrorist attack that killed more than 20 earlier in the day.
The car truck attack in Logar province left 25 dead, including students, according to provincial officials. No party has yet taken responsibility for the attack, although the Afghan government moved quickly to assign blame.
Violence is up as the U.S. formally withdraws on Saturday, with all of nearly 10,000 troops – including some 2,500 Americans – expected to be home by September 11. According to Tolo News sources, 226 Afghan civilians and military personnel have been killed in Taliban attacks in 24 provinces since April 14, when President Joe Biden announced his decision to bring U.S. troops home.
The US reconstruction watchdog in a report released on Friday revealed that insider attacks in Afghanistan were up about 80 percent and militant attacks overall surged 37% in the first quarter.
Friday’s troika+ meeting in Doha consisted of envoys from the original troika – the United States, Russia and China – in addition to Pakistan. One could easily imagine that, fairly soon, the representative from Washington will most likely be irrelevant and the “real” troika of peace will be the three regional state actors.
“We urge the Government of the Islamic Republic and the High Council for National Reconciliation to engage openly with their Taliban counterparts regarding a negotiated settlement,” the group said in a joint statement issued by the U.S. State Department. “We call upon the negotiating parties to make progress toward an inclusive political settlement and a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire.”
U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, architect of Washington’s withdrawal pact with the Taliban, underscored the necessity of speeding things up.
“We hosted an Expanded Troika (United States, Russia, China, Pakistan) meeting in Doha today. Strong consensus on need to accelerate efforts to achieve an intra-Afghan political settlement,” Khalilzad said in a tweet.
The group also reiterated support for potentially lifting UN sanctions from certain Taliban individuals while urging the insurgents not to pursue a spring offensive.
“We condemn in the strongest terms any attacks deliberately targeting civilians in Afghanistan and call on all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law in all circumstances, including those related to protection of civilians,” the troika said.
The troika statement then wandered into wishful thinking by strongly advocating for a resolution that will result in the formation of an “independent, sovereign, unified, peaceful, democratic, neutral and self-sufficient Afghanistan,” that was free of terrorism and an illicit drug industry.
“We reaffirm that any peace agreement must include protections for the rights of all Afghans, including women, men, children, victims of war, and minorities, and should respond to the strong desire of all Afghans for economic, social and political development including the rule of law,” the statement read.
Meanwhile, senior officials from the presidential palace and the ministries of defense and interior were slamming Islamabad and the insurgents for the Logar attack.
“I join president @ashrafghani in condemning… heinous terrorist attack in Logar province by the Talibs. The car bomb has kiled & injured dozens of civilians mainly 12 grade graduates in a private hostel preparing 4 Uni entry exams. Pakistani supplied amonium niterate & explsives,” Afghan First Vice President Amrullah Saleh said in a tweet.
The troika statement probably did not have the level of impact intended given the involvement of the Pakistanis, whom the Afghan government sees as the Taliban’s handlers. Hence, why, another part of the statement probably appears even comical to the Afghans.
“We do not support the establishment in Afghanistan of any government imposed by force,” the troika – plus Pakistan – said.
For many, the brazen terror attacks and upsurge in violence may not make logical sense for either Islamabad or the Taliban. On the other hand, perhaps they believe “game over” – no need to show any restraint. Besides, do they have any reason to delay their campaign to forcefully seize Kabul?
The other side of the argument is that perhaps Kabul should fast-track talks, setup a transitional government, and hold elections, as the Taliban claim they now would like to do. The Afghan government, one could argue, is simply delaying the inevitable and, hence, is allowing more blood to be spilled unnecessarily.
And many are of course pointing to the attacks as a warning sign of what is to come after the U.S. pullout – as if this hasn’t been happening nonstop since the day the U.S. arrived 20 years ago.