India must stand firm in Af

Major attacks by the Taliban in Kabul underscore the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. Less than a month ago while announcing the start of their spring offensive, the Taliban threatened violence across the country. Thursday last, in a particularly ferocious attack on a Kabul guest house frequented by foreigners, they shot dead 14 people, nine of them foreigners including four Indians. Close on the heels of that attack was another near the entrance of Kabul international airport, at a place used by military vehicles. A European police training mission vehicle was the target of the suicide bombing. Clearly, the twin assaults were aimed at intimidating foreigners and forcing countries like India that are engaged in Afghanistan’s reconstruction to leave. Groups like the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network continue to be nurtured by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). India must stand its ground. The Indian government and NGOs working in Afghanistan have done a splendid job not only in rebuilding infrastructure but also in providing healthcare and education as well as building capacity. This has endeared India to the Afghan people. It is resentment over India’s popularity among ordinary Afghans that is behind the Taliban-ISI’s continuing effort at driving India out of Afghanistan.

The twin attacks in Kabul come a fortnight after the start of the first exploratory talks between representatives of the Taliban and the Afghan government. Are the attacks aimed at reminding the government that it remains a potent force? Is this the Taliban’s way of negotiating from a position of strength? If it is, the Taliban needs to realise that terrorism is not strength; it is the weapon of the weak. It is likely too that a Taliban faction opposed to a negotiated settlement carried out the attack to disrupt the peace process. President Ashraf Ghani must persist with the dialogue process. There will be more attacks as other groups excluded from the process and factions opposed to peace flex their muscle. The Ghani government must not allow them to dictate the agenda or determine the fate of the peace process.

More violence can be expected in the coming months. Every year, during spring the Taliban steps up attacks. This year is likely to be bloodier as the Islamic State
has set up a unit in Afghanistan. Turf wars can be expected to increase. Taliban and IS fighters will carry out high-profile attacks to affirm their influence. Afghanistan’s security forces must be on maximum alert. The international community should continue to stand by Afghanistan through this critical period.

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