Afghanistan’s ceasefire with Taliban: ‘Are we safe now?’

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When President Ashraf Ghani announced a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban on Thursday, Shafiqa Rahimi, a widow of a security force member, recalled how “bravely” her husband fought with the Taliban in the southeastern province of Ghazni. 

“I am surprised, this decision is an insult to us and my husband who fought so bravely with the Taliban,” the 24-year-old told Al Jazeera.

Ghani ordered security forces to cease operations against the armed group until June 20, coinciding with the end of fasting month of Ramadan and the Islamic holiday of Eid ulFitr.

The ceasefire excludes all other armed groups, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.

“How can the president announce ceasefire with the Taliban?” Shafiqa asks

“My husband fought for the safety and security of the country, ceasefire with the Taliban makes us vulnerable to them.”

Decade long fight 

Violence has spread across Afghanistan in recent weeks with heavy fighting taking place between the Taliban and the security forces from the provinces of Badakhshan, Baghlan and Faryab in the north to Farah in the west.

Last month, Farah city, one of the largest cities of Afghanistan, was on the verge of collapse by the Taliban, which would have been the second city, after Kunduz in 2015, to fall under the Taliban since the war began in 2001.

To a desperate attempt to put an end the decade long fight, in February, Ghani offered recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political group and involvement in a constitutional review that he said could bring the group to a negotiating table to end the 16-year-old war.

The Taliban continued fighting and instead sent an invitation to the US for talks.

According to a recent report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), 229 districts were under Afghan government control which is about 56.3 percent of total Afghan districts as of January 31, 2018. 

There were 59 districts, approximately 14.5 percent under the armed group control.

The remaining 119 districts about 29.2 percent are contested – controlled by neither the Afghan government nor the armed group.

A military commander who wishes to remain anonymous because he is not authorised to speak raises a question after the announcement. 

“With so many militant groups active here, how do we identify who is the Taliban and who is not?” he said. 

“The areas where are fighting to push back the Taliban, will be taken over by them, is the president allowing this to happen? I don’t understand.”

The military commander also said that the Taliban had ‘brutally’ killed police and members of the security forces and “cannot be made peace with.”

“The Taliban want to take over the country and have the foreign forces out. Our brothers [police and soldiers] have sacrificed their lives for this fight and after this annoucement we are helpless and cannot even protect our people or even us.”

Spring offensive

The latest report in which the Afghan security forces casualty figures were disclosed was in July 2017. A total of 2,531 members of the Afghan forces had been killed and 4,238 wounded in the first four months of 2017.

Hundreds of soldiers and police officers had been killed since the Taliban launched their spring offensive in April in a bid to control large swathes of the country attacking government building and army check posts.

Amir Yagana, a Kabul resident, believes Ghani’s decision of ceasefire is to put pressure on the Taliban for peace talks and a desperate attempt to end the war in the country.

“They want to ally with the Taliban so they can fight the other militant groups together, but I need to know about us civilians,” he said. 

In a report published on April 12, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said 763 civilians were killed and 1,495 others injured between January 1 and March 31 in 2018, similar to the same period of the past two years. A six percent increase in cases were attributed to anti-government forces, maily the Taliban and ISIL.

On-ground battles was the second-leading cause of civilian deaths and injuries according to the report.

“After this ceasefire, are we safe now?” Yagana asks.

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