By Baber Khan Sahel
Kabul, May 29 (efe-epa).- An inordinate delay in the intra-Afghan talks has threatened the Afghanistan peace process that was set in motion after a landmark agreement between the United States and Taliban signed exactly three months ago.
The agreement between the two sides inked in the Qatari capital of Doha on Feb. 29 laid a roadmap for a phased withdrawal of American troops from the war-ravaged country.
The deal included a prisoner swap between the Taliban and the Afghan forces as a precursor to intra-Afghan talks for peace in the country after 19 years of a devastating war.
However, the exchange of 5,000 Taliban prisoners for 1,000 of those from the security forces, originally set to commence on Mar. 10, was offset by a dramatic spike in violence and disagreements between the Afghan government and the insurgents.
According to political analyst Safiullah Mullakhil, the delay in the peace talks showed “a lack of will, trust and honesty” between the government and the Taliban that has posed a threat to the process.
“If the matter is not resolved in proper time, the process could end up in a failure that could push the country to other dangerous scenarios including civil war,” Mullakhil told EFE.
The delay was caused after the Taliban decided to boycott the talks for the prisoner swap, terming the meetings with Afghan officials as “fruitless”.
The insurgents, who had negotiated with the US for a withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan within 14 months, refused to engage in direct talks with Kabul and demanded the release of all 5,000 of their inmates as a precondition.
On the other hand, the Afghan government, which was mostly sidelined from the negotiations, has argued against releasing a large number of Taliban prisoners amid increasing armed violence from the insurgents and without official discussions on the prisoner swap.
The stalemate ended on Thursday as the two sides agreed to resume the prisoner swap talks after an Eid ceasefire as a goodwill gesture to break the ice.
Mullakhil, a member of the Kabul-based Rana think-tank, believes the Taliban do not have faith in the intra-Afghan talks and have been making excuses to delay the process.
Despite disagreements on the prisoner swap mechanism, the government has so far released 2,000 Taliban prisoners over the last two months, while the insurgent group only freed a few hundred security forces members.
Moreover, an increase in violence caused more disruptions.
Following a week-long reduction in violence towards the end of February, which paved way for the signing of the Doha agreement, the Taliban intensified its offensive against government forces throughout the country.
The Afghan government held the Taliban responsible for 3,712 attacks between Mar.1 and May 14, in which 469 civilians were killed and 948 injured, apart from the casualties suffered by the security forces.
According to a UN report released on May 19, Taliban attacks caused 208 civilian casualties in April, an increase of 25 percent from the last year, whereas the Afghan security forces caused 172 civilian deaths or injuries, an increase of 38 percent.
The Taliban refused to declare a ceasefire or even reduce violence against the Afghan forces, except for the three days of Eid earlier this week.
“If we had a ceasefire first, then we would have witnessed remarkable progress in the peace process and, more importantly, we would not have witnessed hundreds of civilian casualties in these three months,” Bismillah Watandost, spokesperson of the People’s Peace Movement or Helmand Peace Marchers, told EFE.
The militant group uses attacks as their main leverage in the peace talks with the government, and some even believe that they can achieve a military victory after the pullout of foreign troops, who still provide significant support to the Afghan forces.