The Taliban’s announcement of their annual spring offensive could have severe implications for the group in the near future as the death toll rises and Afghans will have no choice but to rebuff the Taliban in large parts of their country. A few months back the Afghan government announced an unconditional peace approach to the Taliban so they could live in Afghanistan as common citizens. Without a doubt, the government peace proposal to the Taliban has been rejected by the group and their affiliates.
The Taliban still lack national support for their cause. This is because of their harsh policy of bombing civilian areas in Afghanistan. A United Nations report has indicated that Afghan civilians are purposely targeted. According to a survey on the national consensus, a majority of Afghans have rejected the Taliban. Fewer than 10% showed sympathy to the group. Most Afghans see the Taliban insurgents as the greatest challenge to their safety.
Claims by some in Pakistan that the Taliban represent a legitimate voice of Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns is invalid. In fact, the Pashtuns have been victimized by the Taliban through decades of war. Besides destroying Pashtun villages, the Taliban have burned their schools and prevented Pashtun children from attending school, which left millions of those children illiterate.
On the other hand, the Taliban have killed hundreds of Pashtun elders and influential figures who dared to speak out against Taliban atrocities. Moreover, the politics of Afghanistan has always been dominated by Pashtuns. Both the former and current democratically elected presidents of Afghanistan were ethnic Pashtuns and most important positions in the cabinet such as the heads of intelligence, defense and finance, the Kabul police chief – these key offices have mostly been held by Pashtuns. Pakistani claims that Pashtuns are a marginalized group are irrelevant.
Now the question is, who is behind the death and war strategy? Multiple sources have confirmed that Taliban militants enjoy safe havens in Pakistan. One of the major problems in combating the Taliban insurgency is the difficulty of launching counterinsurgency operations outside Afghanistan, particularly to hit safe havens or target specific Taliban leaders involved in the Afghan conflict, when Pakistan is not willing to cooperate with the US and the international community. Pakistan should learn from its past mistakes or else pay the price of making mistakes again and again. The move by the US administration of President Donald Trump at such a critical time is highly remarkable.
Radicalization of Pakistani youth has a huge impact on neighboring Afghanistan, despite the fact that Pakistan itself is a victim of home-grown terror. Some segments of Pakistani society continue to sympathize with terrorist outfits, justifying their actions and providing an enabling environment for these militant groups and their affiliates to operate. In fact, radicalization is represented various fronts of the religious-political organizations in Pakistan.
First of all, the US along with international community should ask for Pakistan’s sincere help in combating terrorism and extremism on both sides of Durand Line. Moreover, US drone strikes and limited counterinsurgency operations will weaken the Taliban. The US military has launched an expandable operation in Pakistan, but it’s extremely important to avoid civilian causalities. Sanctions on major Pakistani companies could compel the country to halt support to terrorist groups. This option must be on the table unless the US gets the full support of the Pakistan Army to crack down on militants without distinguishing between good and bad Taliban.
Second, the Taliban must understand that their popularity is decreasing with the passage of time as a result of their militancy. They have carried out multiple insurgent missions around Kabul and other parts of the country in which hundreds of civilians were killed or wounded. The Taliban should recognize that militarily they will not be able to achieve anything except the deaths of civilians.
Third, the US along with the international community must extend more support to the social sector and armed forces of Afghanistan in order to drive away the Taliban and international terrorist groups. After all, the Taliban are connected with foreign terrorists through the ideology of waging jihad against a Western-backed government. The Taliban are not only a threat to US missions in Afghanistan but the biggest threat could be posed to regional countries. The Taliban firmly believe in spreading their extremist ideology to other parts of the region, as historically they have given shelter to one of the most notorious militant groups, al-Qaeda.
Finally, the responsibility of the Afghan government is immediate and speedy security-sector reform, giving a chance to newly graduated students from the military academies. The Taliban and their terrorist affiliates will not be able to sustain their bloody military campaign forever. At the moment, the Taliban movement is split between moderates and extremists; they have no strong central and committed authority. It’s extremely important for the Afghan government to take some basic steps to split the movement on the battlefield further and then make them accept the demands of the Kabul government.