Over a 100 people have died in a recent flurry of attacks by the Afghan Taliban across the country. A suicide bombing on Saturday outside a bank in the southern city of Kandahar, which killed six people and wounded at least 24, was the latest recorded incident. Earlier in the week New York based International Rescue Committee (IRC) confirmed that five Afghan staff members, all men in their 20s, were taken hostage on Sunday and were killed by their captors the following day.
As the NATO forces make their final arrangements to withdraw next year, it is becoming increasingly clear that that Afghanistan will not see peace. The Afghan Taliban are still a force to be reckoned with. Hopes of a negotiated settlement with them have also failed. They will likely manage to establish a complete stronghold over south and south-eastern Afghanistan quite quickly and work from there to topple whatever government is in power in Kabul.
The Afghan Taliban that have successfully managed to survive the NATO onslaught will likely find it much easier to out-do the Afghan army one the NATO troops leave. The Afghan security forces are riddled with numerous issues including drug use, sexual abuse, desertion, defection to the Taliban themselves including instances where they have often been found to be complicit in insider attacks. Furthermore, they have yet to demonstrate a feasible ability to function on their own without the assistance of their NATO counterparts.
A weak domestic security setup such as the current one will prove to be unable to contain the numerous warlords that have been springing into action with the NATO withdrawal looming. In such a situation the Afghan Taliban which have the substantial numbers and have done the bulk of the fighting against the NATO forces will manage to overpower contesting warlords and the Afghan security forces.
The negotiations with the Afghan Taliban as of right now have hit a substantial roadblock. Three months ago, hopes of restarting peace talks rose briefly. With American encouragement, the Taliban set up an office in Qatar that was to be used for meetings with Afghan and foreign officials. But 48 hours after it opened in June, the office was shut down amid a melodramatic dispute about whether the group could display the flag and name of its former regime. Since then the Taliban have resumed attacks on numerous targets across the country.
"The Taliban would stop fighting if they had more confidence in the Americans and the peace process," said Abdul Hakim Mujahid, a former Taliban diplomat who is a member of the government's High Peace Council. "Now their policy is to continue the insurgency. When things fail in this world, martyrdom in battle is their fallback."
Since the debacle in Qatar, there has been a flurry of diplomatic maneuvering to bring some Taliban leaders back onto the peace track. One moderate insurgent official, Agha Jan Motasim, spent weeks in Kabul as a low-profile guest of the government while U.S. and other officials reportedly attempted to split his faction off from the hard-line leadership of Taliban leader Mohammad Omar and persuade Motasim to open a new peace office, in Turkey or Saudi Arabia. But that effort, too, apparently failed and Motasim left Afghanistan.
It needs to be realized that the self-imposed deadline by the NATO troops is now largely working to the advantage of the Afghan Taliban and much to the detriment of the Afghan government. The Taliban have time on their side. The fact that the coalition troops are desperate to reach an agreement before 2014 coupled with the Taliban's own hard-headed and inelastic demands at the negotiating table make it virtually impossible to get the Taliban to make any concessions at the negotiation table. Meaningful diplomacy has been rendered moot. From the Taliban's point of view, being given anything short of a fairly substantial part in the Afghan government post 2014 is not in their interest to negotiate for-and there is little the coalition forces can do about it.
For now, more bloodshed and more violence seem on the cards. The Afghan Taliban will likely maneuver the full might of their war machine to battle the Afghan government once the NATO troops leave. Parts of Afghanistan could fall back under Taliban rule much quicker than we expect.