In the aftermath of two major terror attacks that rocked nation, the Afghan peace process to be dead in the water. Following the suicide bombing of a funeral in the Nangarhar province and the storming of a maternity hospital in Kabul, President Ashraf Ghani ordered security forces to begin offensive operations against the Taliban. It is not clear, however, that the Taliban is responsible for these attacks.
On May 12, 2020, at least 24 people perished and dozens more were wounded after an explosion rocked the funeral ceremony of a district police force commander in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province. Well over a hundred people, including including politicians, provincial council members, and local citizens, were there to see Shaikh Akram, who died as the result of a heart attack on May 11, laid to rest. A suicide bomber made his way to the middle of the funeral ceremony, then detonated his explosives, wreaking havoc on the crowd surrounding him.
An affiliate of the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for striking the funeral, while the Taliban's spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, has denied his organization was involved in any way. In spite of the Islamic State's announcement, the Afghan government continues to assert that the Taliban was behind the operation.
On the same day in Kabul, the nation's capital, three gunmen in Afghan National Police (ANP) uniforms stormed the Dasht-e-Barchi hospital, leaving at least twenty four dead, including at least two children. Afghan National Army Commandos, the Afghan Government's equivalent to US Army Rangers, secured the hospital after killing all the attackers. Members of this elite unit were seen carrying infants out of the facility, with at least two wrapped in blood covered blankets.
The Islamic State has not claimed responsibility, fueling accusations by the Afghan government that the Taliban was indeed involved. President Ashraf Ghani and Vice President Amrullah Saleh have pointed fingers at the Taliban, in spite of the group's fierce denial of any and all involvement in the operation. Shortly after the hospital was secured, President Ghani ordered Afghan Security Forces to commence offensive operations against the Taliban in retaliation. Interestingly, he offered no direct evidence specifically pointing to the Taliban's hand in the actions.
On May 14, the US Special Representative to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, released a statement placing the blame squarely on the Islamic States shoulders, "The USG (United States Government) has assessed ISIS-K conducted the horrific attack on a maternity ward an d funeral earlier this week in Afghanistan."
After analyzing the available evidence, the Special Representative's assertion seems to be the correct answer. The Dasht-e-Barchi hospital happens to be located in a prominently Hazara community, a Shiite Muslim minority that has been frequently targeted by the Islamic State. Furthermore, it is well known that the Islamic State opposes any agreement between the Afghan government and Taliban, thus indicating the strikes may have been their way of throwing a wrench into the peace process.
Impact of Offensive Operations
The commencement of offensive operations has seemingly halted the Afghan peace process. Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan's main national security adviser, wrote on twitter, "The attacks of the last two months show us and the world that the Taliban and their sponsors do not and did not intend to pursue peace. There seems little point in continuing to engage the Taliban in peace talks." Most certainly, if Kabul's offensive campaign continues, the Taliban will respond in kind, further escalating violence.
The United States has already begun withdrawing forces from the war-torn nation, and is seeking to have less than 8,000 troops in country by July. Under the agreement between the United States and Taliban, the remains troops would withdraw after 14 months as long as the Taliban upholds its end of the bargain, including not harbouring other Islamic groups, such as Islamic State, in Afghanistan. The full agreement can be found here.
President Trump, showing his disdain for the government in Kabul, said he wanted the Afghan to police their own affairs. During a press conference, he noted, "In Kabul we’ve had some, I understand some pretty big blow-ups, but again you count on a government to be able to police themselves. They’re having a hard time I suspect."
As US support for Kabul decreases, the government's more aggressive stance agains the Taliban is unlikely to shift dynamics politically or militarily. Furthermore, the longer the fighting goes on, the weaker the Afghan government's negotiating stance against the Taliban will become.