The Afghan war has been long, bloody and disastrous. More than 17 years since the Taliban was deposed, the country is no closer to a peaceful solution, with the group vying to disrupt the internationally recognised government of Ashraf Ghani. Erudite if ineffective, Mr Ghani has not been able to unify Afghanistan and tackle its main challenges – chiefly corruption, gender inequality, drug trafficking and insecurity. Meanwhile the Taliban has waged a campaign of death and destruction in the Kabul and beyond, all the while demanding legitimacy in its talks with foreign powers.
Last year was the bloodiest in a decade, with 3,804 civilians killed, according to the UN. Meanwhile, today a blast in downtown Kabul killed one and injured at least 17, many of them students.
The Taliban, in the throes of their much-vaunted spring offensive, must commit to a ceasefire in the first instance to show they are serious about engaging in the peace process. The past few weeks have seen twin-track efforts to kickstart negotiations. Much hope is pinned on upcoming talks between the US and the Taliban as a step towards ending the bitter conflict. Led by US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the negotiations have centred on a timetable for US troop withdrawal and guarantees that the Taliban will desist from terrorism.
However, rival talks held in Moscow have made the process more complex. Just last week, a Taliban delegation attended talks in Russia for the third time in a year, enabling Moscow to move into the role of power-broker but drawing the ire of America. Meanwhile the Taliban has refused to engage with Mr Ghani’s weakened government or recognise Afghanistan’s constitution as the country prepares for a September election.
The precedent of parallel negotiations in Syria – where the triptych of Russia, Iran and Turkey talks derailed the UN Geneva process – does not bode well for a peaceful settlement in Kabul. Both Russia and the US have waged long unsuccessful wars in Afghanistan, dubbed the graveyard of empires. Neither have been able to broker a resolution and their interests often compete, particularly in this region.
For the sake of its people, Afghanistan urgently needs a ceasefire. Mr Ghani had proposed one at the onset of Ramadan to mark the month of peace but the Taliban rejected the offer in a bid to stall for time and continue its onslaught. Until it recognises the constitution and engages with the government, peace will elude Afghanistan. Indeed, talks between the two sides scheduled for May last year fell apart at the last minute, further setting back the peace process.
There is value in the involvement of the US and Russia. But they should consider the needs of the weary people of Afghanistan first, who continue to suffer death and injury as fruitless talks roll on without an end in sight.