Kabul responds no more

5 juin 2019

What should we think of the spring maelstrom in which Afghanistan is struggling, more scattered and weakened than ever before? What words can be used to describe this exhausting, endless theatre of crisis where violence and ineptitude of actors drag their 35 million compatriots to the abyss? Forty years after the Red Army’s invasion of their country, a quarter of a century after the end of a painful civil war (1989-1992), and 18 years after the fall of the Taliban regime[1], could the Afghan population aspire to nothing but this desperate matrix of war, attacks, bad governance, corruption, hundreds of deaths and injuries, external interference and misplaced personal ambitions? Unfortunately, the observation of the transversal disaster of the moment leaves room for little optimism…

On the ground, chaos, from North to South

On April 11, even as the United Nations lifted the travel ban for a dozen Taliban leaders (to ‘facilitate’ the US-led peace talks in Qatar; see below), the Taliban insurgency ‘formalized’ the beginning of its annual spring offensive against Afghan security forces. This ultra-violent insurgency took no one by surprise; three weeks earlier (March 24), the pace of a particularly violent spring was set: in the south of the country (Helmand Province), the attack by several hundred Taliban against army and police positions in the infamous Sangin District left at least 70 people dead in the ranks of the security forces… For weeks, the North had not been left behind with suffering and fear: on March 11, during a Taliban assault on one of its bases in Badghis province, the Afghan National Army lost an entire company (about 50 men), while other units (nearly 150 soldiers in all) dropped their weapons and surrendered to the Taliban…

Since then, on the various fronts, things have not improved precisely, at least for government forces that have been exhausted, outdated and struggling with the negligence of their leaders: in the first half of May, no fewer than 160 security personnel[2] (army and police) fell under Taliban fire in the provinces of Badghis, Baghlan (Pul-i-Kumri), Paktika and Herat. Let us specify that the Taliban hierarchy has properly refused the principle of a truce in the fighting during Ramadan and further stretched its desire for chaos in the humanitarian field, by reinforcing attacks against the courageous NGOs present at the bedside of the Afghan population… On Tuesday, May 28, in Khost (East), Ghor (West) and Samangan (North) provinces, some 40 soldiers, police officers and civilians lost their lives in yet another series of Taliban attacks[3].

As if this orgy of sinister and bad news were not enough, observers have been concerned in recent weeks about the arrival in Afghanistan of fighters affiliated with another Islamic-terrorist nebula, which has been defeated in Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State (EI) is redeploying its elements to Afghanistan[4] in order to increase its ranks and preserve some of its troops. A « relocation » that obviously cannot benefit its hosts in any way whatsoever…

A pathetic and devastated political scene

If the example of harmony and national unity were to come from the Arg (presidential palace) or the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of Parliament), this would have been known long ago; in spring 2019, seven months after a legislative election that was as complicated to organize as it was to decipher the accounting results – with or without fraud… -, this constant jurisprudence continues.

On May 19, the surrealist clash that accompanied the inaugural session of the new lower house and the appointment of its speaker will speak volumes about the current deleterious atmosphere… and the serenity surrounding, in the coming quarter, the preparation of the next presidential election (September 2019), when the outgoing head of state Ashraf Ghani will run for a second term; naturally if the security conditions are right[5] for such an undertaking, on the scale of this country scarred on a daily basis by fighting and other suicide attacks…

In the meantime, in the charged atmosphere one guesses, both sides are twisting their weapons and arguments, levelling the debates even further down[6]. With a record that is at best contrasted if not very poor, the outgoing administration and its improbable unnatural two-headed leadership[7] therefore intend to convince the deserving Afghan electorate of the need to reappoint it for a new five-year term; a challenge in itself but, basically, in this Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, which has seen others at the electoral level, this would not be the first time that a head of state challenged by his constituents, his collaborators, his soldiers and police officers, and with limited credit outside national borders, has won a new mandate…

Peace talks (to say nothing of it?) in Qatar

It is in the ‘serene’ political and security context outlined above that peace talks between the Taliban leadership… and the American administration have followed one another in recent months, far from Kabul, Kandahar or Washington: Doha[8], the capital of the Emirate of Qatar, welcomes these discreet exchanges and negotiations which, at this time, remain closed to representatives of the official Afghan government, on the basis of a redhibitory injunction by the Taliban, which consider « illegitimate » the Ghani government[9]

At the beginning of May, during the 6th session of the peace negotiations[10], the exchanges would have focused in particular on the withdrawal of foreign troops (particularly US) from Afghan soil, on the guarantees (of the Taliban) against terrorism, on the prospects for talks between the insurgency and the Afghan government, and finally on the conditions for a lasting national ceasefire; one can imagine how simple the exchanges between the Taliban envoys and the representatives of the Trump administration should have been and how easy it was to reach consensus… Even though far from Doha, far from reducing the intensity of the fighting in order to create (more) favourable conditions for peace talks, the Taliban are stepping up their war effort by multiplying all over the place operations and attacks… Nothing that seems a priori contradictory in the eyes of American interlocutors and Taliban envoys, who are very comfortable in Doha…

In an offshore register here again, it should be noted that about fifteen Taliban emissaries were invited on 28 May to Moscow – a capital that is indeed familiar with the Afghan issue, increasingly involved in mediation companies in recent months – to participate in a multi-party conference on the future of Afghanistan…

At the discretion of the White House 

At the beginning of the year, the current tenant of the White House – who likes to remind us that since 2001, generous America has spent the equivalent of $780 billion in Afghanistan, including $130 billion for national reconstruction… – pleaded for a withdrawal of American (and foreign) troops[11] from Afghanistan according to a timetable stretched over 3 to 5 years. And Washington to propose to the Taliban peace negotiations that could eventually associate them with a government of national unity; provided that the latter, for their (obscure) part, « undertake » to deny access to Afghan territory to all terrorist groups seeking to attack the United States[12]. Conditions that will appear very tenuous to many observers, to use a circumstantial euphemism…

In order not to upset the sensitivity of this fundamentalist insurgency, not to further darken the national security landscape and to avoid being held accountable to public opinion, the American authorities recently suggested to the US military command in Afghanistan to stop mapping the areas of Afghan territory controlled by the government and the Taliban[13]; an initiative in many respects enlightening on the evolution of the balance of power on the ground and the chances for the population of this landlocked country to have to live under the yoke again one day soon, which we can imagine is laughing and flourishing for all, of an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan 2.0.


[1] Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, 1996-2001.

[2] Afghan War Casualty Reports (3-9 May, 10-16 May).

[3] ‘’Afghan Forces Hit with Wave of Attacks on Eve of Taliban Talks’’, The New York Times, May 28, 2019.

[4] ‘’After ‘caliphate’ collapse, jihadists head to Afghanistan to plot attacks’’, AFP, April 30, 2019.

[5] Initially scheduled for July, the organization of this national election has already been postponed by two months…

[6] ‘’Ex-official Levels New Corruption Accusations at Afghan Government’’, The New York Times, May 26, 2019.

[7] Involving President Ashraf Ghani to his unfortunate challenger in the previous election (spring 2014), the Chief Executive (a kind of prime minister… without much authority) Abdullah Abdullah.

[8] Where the Taliban have had a quasi-official embassy since 2013…

[9] The visit to Doha of an Afghan delegation including government representatives ended at the last minute on April 26 after disagreements (according to the Taliban) over the composition of the delegation.

[10] ’Taliban and U.S. Start New Round of Talks in Qatar’’, The New York Times, May 1, 2019.

[11] As of May 2019, the United States is still deploying 14,000 troops to Afghanistan; 8,400 are training Afghan security forces, with others focusing on counter-terrorist missions against al-Qaida and the Islamic state.

[12] ‘’Under Peace Plan, U.S. Military Would Exit Afghanistan Within Five Years’’, The New York Times, February 28, 2019.

[13] ‘’U.S. Military Stops Counting How Much of Afghanistan Is Controlled by Taliban’’, The New York Times, May 1, 2019.
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