Afghan peace process 'undermined' by Taliban Samangan attack

Ten people died in Monday's car bomb and shoot-out with security forces at a time when the militants promised a reduction in violence

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A Taliban attack on a provincial headquarters of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency which left 10 people dead will undermine the fragile peace process, experts say.

The car bomb and ensuing gunfire assault in Samangan’s provincial capital Aybak on Monday ended with the death of at least three Taliban militants, the latest and largest escalation in violence from the group.

The attack is a breach of the understanding that the US and Taliban had when an agreement was signed between the two groups in February, wherein the militants said to reduce violence, including attacks on major city centres in exchange for a gradual reduction in US presence in the country.

The US Special Representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, condemned the “unacceptable” attack, saying it “contradicts [the Taliban’s] commitment to reduce violence”.

Although he mentioned the attack, Mr Khalilzad was at pains to praise progress made on the agreement, including the 135th day and end of phase one, including a reduction of US forces and departure from five military bases He didn’t mention any consequences relating to the attack.

The Taliban promised to reduce violence by up to 80 per cent and work towards direct negotiations with the Afghan government - delayed for months now due to hurdles in the release of prisoners from both the government and Taliban side.

Yesterday’s attack could complicate the peace process in Afghanistan and cause further delays in the beginning of intra-Afghan negotiations, said United States Institute of Peace’s Afghanistan and Central Asia Programmes Director Scott Worden.

“The fact that the Taliban claimed responsibility for a major attack in a provincial capital appears to violate a promise in the US-Taliban agreement,” he said, adding that the US’s response will be an important clarification of the terms of the Taliban deal.

“If such attacks are permitted, what are the limits on anti-government violence in the agreement?” he said. “If they are not permitted, what are the consequences for the Taliban of breaching it?”

Over recent weeks, violence across Afghanistan has surged, with attacks staged in most of the country’s 34 provinces.

Javid Faisal, Afghanistan’s National Security Council spokesman said the escalating attacks of the last few weeks had been signs of increasing violence, not advancing peace.

"This is a matter of great concern for Afghans and puts this unparalleled peace opportunity in jeopardy, for which the Taliban and their supporters would be responsible," he told The National.

Shortly after the attack that left dozens needing hospital treatment, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani said the Taliban was still pursuing war.

“Resorting to violence and murdering people with the aim to get any advantage and more concessions in the negotiations is the worst and [the most] evil approach that the group has adopted,” he said.

The Taliban said Monday’s attack carried “a message to those who do not understand the language of diplomacy and try to secure their personal interests through childish play”.

But yet more violence and a growing Taliban presence throughout the country – as well as a four-month delay in direct negotiations between the militants and the government – has caused many to lose hope, with Afghans, after months of fighting, fearing an equally violent future.

“Disagreement over the terms of negotiations and the use of violence to alter one side’s negotiating position are, unfortunately, anticipated hurdles towards a comprehensive peace agreement,” Mr Worden said.

The goal should be to begin the intra-Afghan talks, he said, rather than relying on agreements with the US.

“Ultimately, the Taliban are undermining the peace process with their further attacks.”