The Taliban have signalled incredible capacity yet again to breach security cordons around some of the most tightly guarded installations in Kabul. On Sunday, they unleashed a wave of suicide bombings, explosions and street fighting in the heart of the capital, an area where the Afghan Parliament, Nato’s headquarters in Afghanistan and several embassies are located. It was several hours before Afghan forces backed Nato troops could clear the parliament building of the insurgents. The Taliban have targeted Kabul several times in recent years, carrying out assaults on various ministry buildings. But Sunday’s offensive was on a scale not seen before. It was particularly audacious and struck at the very seat of power. It has been described as the biggest in the 11 years since the Taliban regime was overthrown. While western military analysts have sought to brush aside the magnitude of the siege of Kabul, there is reason for serious concern. Every spring there is an escalation in Taliban violence. If the well-coordinated attacks across Kabul are any indication of what lies ahead, then this year’s spring escalation could be bigger.
A related development in Pakistan will add to concern over the Taliban’s mounting military capacity. Heavily armed Taliban militants are reported to have engineered a jailbreak in the northwestern town of Bannu, resulting in 400 prisoners, including many terrorists – at least a score of them have been described as ‘extremely dangerous’ – escaping. Such a major operation would not have been possible without help from within jail authorities, perhaps even the Pakistan establishment. This is true of the Taliban siege of Kabul as well. It would be impossible for heavily armed fighters to get past multiple security cordons without inside support. Clearly, the Taliban has significant support inside the corridors of power in Afghanistan as it does in Pakistan.
The question uppermost in everyone’s minds is whether the Afghan security forces have the capacity to withstand a Taliban onslaught on their own. What will happen when the international forces leave Afghanistan in 2014? Analysts say that the Afghan government’s hold will be at best tenuous and government forces will hold the cities and the roads. But vast swathes of the country could fall to the Taliban. The scenario is bleak and 2014 is not very far off. Many will call on president Hamid Karzai to call off the peace talks with the Taliban. He must not give up at this juncture. He must not allow the Taliban’s provocative violence to defeat the peace process.