Afghan government flayed for civilian casualties, corruption

Independent report says 14 drone victims not Taliban fighters, question rules of engagement

Tahir Khan February 19, 2016
Independent report says 14 drone victims not Taliban fighters, question rules of engagement.

ISLAMABAD: While international partners are trying to stave off conflicts in Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani’s national unity government has received flak for governance failures, corruption and civilian casualties.

Certain elements within the government are said to be trying to thwart peace talks with the Afghan Taliban.

Identifying victims

In its annual report for 2015 on armed conflict released on February 14, 2016, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) blamed “pro-government forces” for 17 per cent deaths and injuries to Afghan civilians. The report also pins the blame on the Taliban and international forces for civilian casualties in 2015.

However, another report, issued by the UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism on Thursday, said 14 people killed in US drone strikes in Khost, Afghanistan in June 2015 were not Taliban fighters.

“US and Nato officials immediately claimed they were Taliban insurgents,” the bureau revealed. “But we have discovered from a well-placed source [in] the UN that all 14 people were civilians.” According to the bureau, this has raised concerns that either “military targeting is becoming less accurate” or there has been an unannounced change in the rules of engagement.

As per the UNAMA report, more civilian deaths have been caused by pro-government security forces during ground fighting and aircraft attacks.

“Pro-government forces caused 1,854 civilian casualties,” UNAMA Director of Human Rights Danielle Bell said. “While this accounts for 17 per cent of civilian casualties in 2015, it also represents a 28 per cent increase in casualties from 2014.”

Failure to act

The UNAMA report urged all sides in the conflict to protect civilians at all costs in 2016. However, it appears these appeals have been ignored by security forces and pro-government commanders.

On February 17, Afghan forces raided a health clinic in Wardak run by Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA), an aid agency. The Afghan officials claimed they were conducting a raid against the Taliban.

On February 18, unidentified armed men kidnapped five International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) workers in Ghazni. This forced ICRC to suspend its operations in the province.

ICRC officials have not blamed anyone for the attack. However, insiders believe the committee suspects that pro-government armed groups are involved.

Such incidents are being construed as a sign of the government’s inability to control their own commanders. The government needs to respond to these incidents to ensure protection of civilians.

The UNAMA report also coincided with the launch of a report from Transparency International (TI).

As per TI, “corruption in Afghanistan is fuelling ongoing war and undermining the effectiveness of billions of dollars in international aid.” The report emphasised the need to curb corruption for the survival of the state.

Lack of consensus

Afghanistan is still facing serious challenges in fostering consensus for a possible reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban.

The next meeting, scheduled for February 23, will provide a major breakthrough as a date for talks with the Taliban might be decided.

The quadrilateral process has highlighted the need for a broad-based consensus in Afghanistan before talks with the Taliban. However, some government leaders have publicly opposed talks.

A top presidential adviser has criticised the peace talks with the Taliban as a “waste of time”, saying the quadrilateral process is doomed to fail. Afghanistan’s first vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum has echoed similar views on the reconciliation with the Taliban.

Atta Mohammad Noor, acting governor of Balkh, has attached a series of conditions to these talks that have surprised the people of Afghanistan.

Analysts are also deliberating that these differences of opinion within the government come at a time when the public expects a great deal from peace talks.

Nazar Mohammad Mutmaeen, a writer and political analyst, says such statements by elected representatives indicate the government has no “clear policy for the reconciliation process.”

“I think there is no political will on the part of the government and peace will not return under such circumstances,” Mutmaeen told The Express Tribune over the telephone on Friday. “Top government leaders have offered conflicting remarks which are contrary to peace efforts.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2016.


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