THE continuous violence in Afghanistan has raised serious questions about the sustainability of the peace process, as well as the Kabul government’s ability to defend the country once all foreign forces leave. In the latest atrocity, two women judges working for Afghanistan’s supreme court were killed in a Kabul ambush on Sunday, with suspicion falling on the Afghan Taliban. President Ashraf Ghani slammed the Taliban for launching an “illegitimate war and hostility” while the top American diplomat in the country has also singled out the Taliban for the attack. The murders are the latest in a series of killings targeting prominent journalists, activists and members of Afghan civil society. It is believed that critical and independent voices are being eliminated one by one in Afghanistan to send a chilling message to others to keep quiet. This cycle of violence ties in with the bigger picture in Afghanistan, where attacks continue despite the fact that the government and Taliban are holding peace talks in Doha. However, if such horrific bloodshed continues, particularly targeting civilians, legitimate questions about the Taliban’s commitment to the peace process will arise.

Perhaps to ensure that the Afghan Taliban denounce such brazen acts of violence, a commitment to not target officials, members of civil society and indeed all non-combatants in Afghanistan should be made part of any peace deal that emerges out of Doha. That way if such atrocities continue, the hard-line militia can at least be held to account. The fact is that if all Afghan stakeholders miss this window of opportunity to end the seemingly never-ending conflict in their homeland, it may be a long while before the next opportunity emerges. And while warlords, militants and others who live by the gun will not mind such a scenario, the forsaken people of Afghanistan will certainly be the ultimate losers. That is why a just and durable peace must be worked out in Doha between the government in Kabul and the Taliban. It is true that the Afghan government will be weakened if it is left to fend for itself after the foreign forces exit. But the Taliban must ask themselves what they seek to gain by prolonging the cycle of violence. If the militia is dreaming of retaking Kabul through force, it must remember that now there are other ‘contenders’, such as the local branch of IS, which thrive on bloodshed and play by very different rules.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2021

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