Kabul hospital massacre might fray possibility of peace talks between Afghan and Taliban officials

On Tuesday, Afghanistan witnessed two of its worst terrorist attacks. One of the two targets was the Kabul government hospital, Dasht-e-Barchi hospital’s maternity ward, which was managed by international humanitarian organisation, Doctors Without Borders. The militants disguised as police officials broke into the ward and started open firing claiming 24 lives, including 16 women and two newly borns, while almost eight babies lost their mothers.  

The country, shaken by the massacre, was just coming to terms with what happened that another incident of suicide attack at an officer’s funeral broke out. On the same day, a suicide bomb attack on a funeral in the eastern province of Nangarhar killed at least 32 people.   

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attacks and ordered the military to turn to offensive mode against all the militant groups operating in the country. As the peace talks between the antagonistic groups (Afghan and Taliban officials) began earlier this year, both the sides committed restoring peace. As part of the deal, US agreed to withdraw its troops from the country after almost a decade long war, while the two were asked for prisoners swap as a sign of reconciliation.  

But the President’s recent statement hinted at a likely turn of events. In a televised speech, he said, “In order to provide security for public places and to thwart attacks and threats from the Taliban and other terrorist groups, I am ordering Afghan security forces to switch from an active defence mode to an offensive one and to start their operations against the enemies.” Also, Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib wrote on Twitter: “there seems little point in continuing to engage Taliban in peace talks”.  

The Taliban, the country’s main militant group, denied any association with both the attacks, though the trust between the officials of both the sides is hanging by a thread. Meanwhile, a regional arm of Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Nangarhar bloodshed, but no group has yet taken responsibility for the Kabul hospital massacre.  

The security officials believed that the funeral firing was a retaliation to last week’s joint operation of Afghan police and National Directorate of Security (NDS) special forces, in which they arrested Khorasani, an IS leader for the south and east areas of Asia.   The NDS in its statement, released after the raid, said, “The group was comprised Daesh and Haqqani network members and led by Sanatullah, a Daesh commander, and was involved in the rocket attack on President Ghani’s inauguration ceremony, the attack on the Sikh temple in Kabul.’’  

The recent terror attacks were seen as a deliberate attempt to derail the US-led peace process between the Taliban and the Afghan government, though US has still kept its hopes for the peace deal and stays committed to withdraw its troop, reducing the number to 8600. Though many see the possibility of peace fraying away. “If the Afghans are going on the attack, I don’t see how you can keep a deal going,”a U.S. congressional aide told the Reuters. “I can’t see how the continued violence would allow
the United States to continue decreasing below the 8,600.”  

Also, a former senior Afghan official said that the Tuesday’s attacks could Ghani the excuse “to defy the Americans on the peace talks” because he and his government saw the US-Taliban deal as a “sellout.”

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