Afghanistan struggles for peace amid surge in violence

November 8, 2020 - 21:58

TEHRAN – As violence surged across Afghanistan in recent weeks, Afghan and Iranian diplomats intensified efforts to achieve lasting peace in Afghanistan and put an end to the country’s long-running conflict.

On November 2, Afghans were shaken by a terrorist attack on Kabul University that killed at least 35 people, including 18 students. The Monday attack started after two gunmen went on a rampage through the sprawling campus firing indiscriminately on students in classrooms. The assailants entered the two-story Law Faculty building throwing grenades and firing bullets in the classrooms.

Afghan security forces rushed to the university to stop the gun battle. After six hours of fighting, the Afghan forces succeeded in restoring peace to the university by killing the assailants. The Daesh terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack. In a message on the Telegram messaging app, an account claiming to belong to ISIL said they had “killed and injured 80 Afghan judges, investigators, and security personnel” who had been gathered for an event at the Faculty of Law, according to an Aljazeera report.

The Kabul University attack was the latest in a series of terrorist attacks that targeted Afghan educational institutions. On October 24, at least 24 people were killed and 50 others were wounded after a suicide bomb attack targeted an education center in Afghanistan’s capital. The attacker detonated explosives in the street outside the Kawsar-e Danish center in Kabul. Most of the victims were students aged between 15 and 26.

Daesh terrorist group also claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on Telegram. In both attacks, the Taliban denied any involvement.

Earlier in May, a group of attackers launched a daylight attack on a maternity hospital in western Kabul that left several mothers dead.

All these attacks were strongly condemned by the international community, including Iran. Iranian embassy in Kabul described the attack on the Kawsar-e Danish center as inhumane and anti-Islamic while condemning the attack in a statement issued shortly after the attack.

Saeed Khatibzadeh, the spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, denounced the attack as “blind terrorism.”

“The dear Afghanistan once again was wounded by blind terrorism. Afghan students fell victim to ugly violence and an endless war they had never chosen. The Islamic Republic of Iran strongly condemns the heinous crime and offers condolences to the Afghan nation and government. Tonight Iran is in mourning over Afghanistan’s tragedy,” the spokesman said in a tweet.

Khatibzadeh also condemned the Kabul University attack. “The dark ideology and the bloodstained hands of terrorists and their supporters targeted the future of Afghanistan and the pure souls of its children. Iran stands by the people and government of Afghanistan in the comprehensive fight against terrorism and extremism,” he said in a tweet following the attack on Kabul University.

Attacks on civilians came at a time when the Taliban and the Afghan government are making efforts to achieve peace through negotiations. The two sides have held several rounds of negotiations but are yet to reach an understanding about the future of Afghanistan. The recent terrorist attacks have posed new challenges to the Afghan peace negotiators as the Taliban is being accused of instigating violence after almost every major attack. For example, Afghanistan’s first Vice President Amrullah Saleh accused the Taliban of orchestrating the attack on Kabul University but the Taliban quickly rejected the accusation as an attempt by Saleh to defame the armed group, which has signed a peace deal with the United States and is in the midst of peace negotiations with the Afghan government.

“Certainly, such attacks are carried out by evil elements that were defeated in Nangarhar and Jowzjan provinces,” the Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said in a statement that alluded to their rival force Daesh.

Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have done little to stop, or at least reduce the violence in Afghanistan. The United States Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has recently said in a report to the U.S. Congress that attacks against Afghan forces and civilians were 50 percent higher in the three months to the end of September when compared to the previous quarter.

“Overall enemy-initiated attacks this quarter were also characterized as ‘above seasonal norms’,” said the report, adding that more than 870 civilians have been killed this quarter, up 43 percent from the April to June period.

The United Nations has also reported a spike in violence in the country in the first nine months of the year. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in late October that from January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting - 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the mission said in a quarterly report.

In light of this rising violence, Iran and Afghanistan have intensified their efforts to put an end to the violence in the war-torn country. In October, Abdullah Abdullah, the head of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, traveled to Iran to seek support for the Afghan peace talks. He met with several high-ranking Iranian officials including the president, foreign minister, Parliament speaker, and secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.

“The leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran consider the success of peace in Afghanistan to be in the interest of the region and the world and they comprehensively support a peace process that is led and managed by Afghanistan,” Abdullah was quoted by the Fars news agency as saying during his two-day visit to Tehran.

At the end of his talks in Tehran, the chief Afghan peace negotiator said he held good meetings with the Iranian officials and that he will “send the message of Iranian support to Kabul.”

In the weeks after Abdullah’s visit to Tehran, Iranian diplomats made efforts in collaboration with the UN to facilitate peace talks in Afghanistan. The Iranian ambassador in Afghanistan, Bahador Aminian, has recently met with Deborah Lyons, the UN secretary-general’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, to discuss the latest developments in Afghanistan before she pays a visit to Iran. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) described the two diplomat’s talks as “constructive.”

Lyons was appointed as the Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan in March 2020 and took up responsibilities in April 2020. She is expected to pay a visit to Iran soon.

Following her meeting with the Iranian envoy, Lyons met with Abdullah to exchange views on the Afghan peace process.

“Pleased to meet HE Deborah Lyons, Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA news.  We exchanged views on Afghan Peace Process, talks in Doha, high level of violence, regional diplomacy for peace, and the upcoming Geneva Conference on Afghanistan,” tweeted Abdullah.

On Saturday, the Iranian foreign minister's special envoy for Afghanistan, Mohammad-Ebrahim Taherian, and his German counterpart Markus Potzel discussed the latest developments in Afghanistan, according to a statement issued by the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

“During the talks, they also weighed plans for the promotion of cooperation between Iran and Germany over the issue of Afghanistan. Taherian and Potzel also expressed concern about the spread of insecurity in Afghanistan, stressing the need for a negotiated political agreement to address the problems,” the statement said.


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