Taliban launch Spring Offensive – Tahir Khan

The Afghan Taliban announced on Friday the launch of their “Spring Offensive” that marks beginning of the annual fighting season. The Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement the insurgents would step up attacks during the offensive, named after the Taliban slain leader Mullah Akhtar Masnsour, who was killed in an American drone strike in May 21, 2016.

This is an unfortunate development as this new wave of violence would only take the lives of innocent Afghans and diminish chances for political process. The Taliban always claimed they would “minimize civilian casualties” but it has never happened. Reports by the UN and other international organizations blame the insurgents for the increased civilian casualties.

The launch of the ‘Operation Mansouri’ could be seen as failure of all stakeholders to press for a political process. It also shows the Taliban’s stubborn approach as they do not focus on reconciliation despite having a political office in Qatar. The Taliban leaders, the Afghan rulers, the U.S., its western allies and all those who either have contacts or influence on the Taliban must take the blame for the longest war in Afghanistan and miseries of Afghans.

The Taliban’s naive approach of not talking to their own Afghans is one of the main causes of the war in Afghanistan. The landmark deal between Hizb-e-Islami and the government in September is the recent example for the Taliban that intra-Afghan dialogue is the best way to find out solutions.

The Hizb-e-Islami chief, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has started meeting with party leaders in eastern Laghman province and the party has issued photographs of these meetings. Afghans could settle problems if they sit together, without any foreign intervention. The Taliban leaders should understand that their joining of the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process could remove the longstanding impression that the Taliban are not independent in their policies.

At the same time the U.S. policy to deal with the Afghan imbroglio has been vague and its quest for the military option until now could be seen as the other main reason of this senseless war. Although the Trump administration is currently busy in review of the Afghan policy, it could look into former President Barrack Obama’s one of the much publicized statements on the Afghan crisis.

In December, 2016, US President Barack Obama had admitted the United States could not wipe out the Taliban militant group in Afghanistan and that despite US efforts, the situation in the war-plagued country remains unstable.

“I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture. The situation in Afghanistan is still tough. War has been a part of life in Afghanistan for over 30 years. The US cannot eliminate the Taliban or end violence in that country,” Obama said addressing the US soldiers at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.

One could assess tough challenges for ahead for the Afghan forces from the last week’s brazen attack by the Taliban inside a major military base in Mazar-e-Sharif, killing over 150 security personnel.

Section of the Afghan media has put the death toll at 250, the single largest casualty figure on a single day in 16 years of war. The attack with the help of insiders in Mazar-e-Sharif, one of the few relatively peaceful parts of the country, has had a negative impact on the security forces’ morale at a time when they would now face the Taliban onslaught in the fighting season.

The Taliban war tactics, including the group attack inside the Mazar’s highly protected military facility, indicate that they have improved their strategy. The Taliban statement has spelt out their strategy for this year’s fighting season and their spokesman says that the “operations will involve conventional attacks, guerrilla warfare, complex suicide attacks, insider attacks, and use of IEDs to achieve their objectives.”

The Taliban operations coincide with a positive development – the appearance of the Hizb-e-Islami chief Hekmatyar in the eastern Laghman province. Photographs, released to the media, show Hekmatyar meeting Hizb leaders. The Hizb joining the mainstream is at least a relief to the war-weary Afghans as Hizb is now a part of the political process. Everyone should support any move if a single person give up armed struggle.

The author is editor NNI news agency, and also a member of CRSS’s Track II Diplomacy initiative, Beyond Boundaries, with Afghanistan.

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