At first glimpse, Kabul is like an Afghan version of Mumbai. An entire side of a hill covered by small houses and chaotic traffic come into view even before you land.
Despite the maelstrom on the surface, and the presence of bunkers at every nook and corner, there is some order in the city. Fairly wide pavements border almost every street, and rainwater drains run along roads flanked by trees of various varieties.
For the most part, people follow traffic rules on the main roads – you can also spot massive armoured military vehicles stuck at red lights, and surrounded by regular cars. Private vehicles move like clockwork. But the smaller byways and lanes are different, buzzing with cars that want to get to places before time. The cars of expatriates often try to cut through traffic jams in desperation. After all, the security situation isn’t getting any better, and punctuality is key to survival.
A few months ago, things were different. It was still winter, and the Taliban and others of their ilk were in hibernation. Now, the spring offensive has begun and the tension is growing with each day. In the past three weeks, there have been several incidents, including the attack on Kabul Airport on 10 June, and an attack at the gate of the Supreme Court of Afghanistan the following day.
Earlier this week, Motasim Agha Jan, a Taliban leader who was the Afghan Finance Minister during Mullah Omar’s regime, in an exclusive interview to Tolo News, said that the insurgent group is willing to negotiate a peace deal with the Afghan government if “the involved parties are honest in their commitments.” The Taliban, he said, and Tolo News reported,” is not looking for the return of an Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan, and any government system should be formed on the basis of public votes.”
It looked as though hope in some form was certainly on the cards. However, the June 18 attack on a senior Shia Muslim cleric, Mohammad Mohaqiq, an hour before the coalition forces handed over the final tranche of the responsibility of security operations to the Afghan forces, signals otherwise.
The handover marks a key transition in the 12-year long war on insurgency The attack on Mohaqiq – a senior member of the High Peace Council established in 2010 to broker a peace deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government – indicates a serious fissure in the Taliban’s ideology and functioning.
The insurgent group is split into moderates and hardliners, and Agha Jan’s criticism of the hardliners, who refer to the government as “infidels,” brings this in the open. Clearly, the moderates are already on board for peace. The hardliners, however, won’t budge so easily, and they are half the force.
On 19 June, President Hamid Karzai broke off talks on the crucial Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S., objecting to the name given to the Taliban office in Qatar – ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’. The U.S. had announced that it was open for talks with the Taliban and used the white Taliban flag and the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ in their statement. Earlier, the U.S. had assured that the Qatar office would not be used by the Taliban for political purposes, but only for holding talks.
The Afghan government is viewing the U.S.’s statement quoting the Taliban and using the name the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ as a violation of the U.S.’s promise. Karzai has accused the U.S. of duplicity and said there is no such thing as this Emirate, a title the Taliban used when they were in power. This pushed Karzai to suspend the talks with the U.S. The Taliban calls him a “puppet” of the U.S. government, and this was possibly a move by Karzai to prove otherwise.
Now, just days into Afghan control of security operations – and hours into the White House’s announcement that it will meet with the Taliban for peace negotiations in Afghanistan – Bagram Airfield came under Taliban attack and aerial activity has increased over the city. There has been a flurry of Chinooks, Apaches, and other military helicopters; troops are being mobilised. Security is being tightened, and the coming week will be crucial.
The ambiguity of the post-2014 state of affairs of the country is apparent. On the up side however, the locals are racing against time to rebuild the city and their nation from scratch. Construction work is underway in almost every lane of Kabul, and every person you talk to with wants to do their bit to create a safer, liveable city – physically, mentally, and socially. They are beyond the point where people give up in frustration.
Sanober (name changed), who works as domestic help, when asked what she thinks will happen after the attack of June 18 and the withdrawal of foreign troops, said, “It will be over soon.” Women, men, old and young alike, they simply want to move on and build a new life. They are going for it; and it shows.
Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy is the Content Manager at Gateway House.
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