- Political uncertainty, terrorism and coronavirus
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo termed his daylong visit to Afghanistan earlier this week as “frustrating” after being unable to convince President Ghani and his political rival Abdullah Abdullah to bury the hatchet and form a government, forcing the US to cut $1 billion in aid to the country. A positive outcome from the visit was crucial so that the next phase of the US-Taliban peace deal, which involves negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban, to agree on the modalities of ensuring lasting peace after a US exit, could begin. Fortunately, there has been a breakthrough in that pursuit as the Ghani-led government has formed a 21-member team comprising of politicians, former officials and members of the civil society that includes five women as well. There are reports that Abdullah Abdullah, after some talks with Ghani’s people, will be endorsing the delegation, thus providing much-needed legitimacy to the negotiating team. The political uncertainty caused by last year’s disputed elections that saw both Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah forming parallel governments is a real danger to the success of the Afghan peace deal. Unfortunately, the Taliban have rejected the Afghan government’s team, deeming it not representative of “all Afghan factions”. While this is a setback to the peace process, there is a high likelihood that the US will intervene to remove this roadblock. As it is, the Taliban, who had always rejected the Afghan government for being ‘a collection of US agents’ are now finally ready to speak to it so long as certain preconditions are met.
But this progress faces some very real and dangerous threats. Since a Taliban ceasefire, other groups have stepped up their terrorist activities, especially the Islamic State that now has a foothold in Afghanistan. Just days ago, the militant outfit claimed responsibility for attacking a Sikh gurdwara in Kabul that left 25 people dead as terrorists open fired on over 200 worshippers inside the complex. That one of the attackers was allegedly an Indian national from Kerala means that the regional pool of recruits for IS is still very fertile. For this, Afghanistan’s security and intelligence has to become more vigilant and effective. Another threat is the Coronavirus pandemic that has brought the world to a standstill. Although Afghanistan only has 100 reported cases so far, the negotiations might get compromised amid travel restrictions and social distancing measures. One hopes the talks can be arranged in a manner that is safe for all participants.