While the Afghan peace process moves ahead, at least to the satisfaction of the US and the Taliban, recent violence claimed by the IS, a new player in the Afghan war, threatens progress in the context of the endgame. At least 63 people were killed and 182 injured in a suicide attack at a wedding party in Kabul on Saturday. The IS-claimed attack is the deadliest to have rocked the Afghan capital in months. And as the country marked the 100th anniversary of its independence on Monday, a series of bombings at restaurants and public squares in the eastern Jalalabad city wounded at least 34 people.
The rise in violence came as the US and the Taliban — after the eighth round of talks between them in Doha — had gone back to their respective camps to discuss what looked like some kind of deal. President Donald Trump had even hinted that a deal was just around the corner. “Many on the opposite side of this 19-year war, and us, are looking to make a deal — if possible!” Trump tweeted after a meeting at his golf club in New Jersey that is believed to have discussed a draft peace plan. The meeting brought together Trump’s Afghan peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Adviser John Bolton and the heads of the military and CIA.
However, just before the New Jersey meeting came the Quetta mosque bombing in which the brother of Taliban chief Haibatullah Akhundzada was reportedly killed along with several others — in what may well be the handiwork of those who don’t want to see peace prevail in Afghanistan. The violence in Afghanistan, meanwhile, is an indication of the new threat of the IS taking roots in the war-stricken country. If President Trump still rushes through his plan to withdraw the American forces by the 2020 US presidential election, Afghanistan runs the risk of returning to the past — a time when the various Afghan factions got locked into an unending battle to take over Kabul in the wake of the pullout of the Soviet forces.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2019.