The latest wave of attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan was a mixed success, but it strengthened the movement’s position in talks with official Kabul and NATO forces ahead of their withdrawal, Russian analysts and politicians said.
“They’re scoring ahead of a potential power vacuum, and pressuring the United States into leaving sooner,” said Viktor Korgun, a leading expert on Afghanistan with the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Peace talks with Taliban were endorsed by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2010, and Russian President Vladimir Putin supported the idea of negotiations with the radical Islamist movement in an article in March. However, talks were stalled last month, followed by a new bout of violence in Afghanistan on Sunday.
Forty-seven people, including 36 terrorist fighters and suicide bombers affiliated with the Taliban, were killed in overnight clashes in Kabul and three neighboring provinces, Afghanistan Interior Ministry said on Monday.
The attackers targeted the parliament’s building and foreign embassies. A few lawmakers took up arms to fight alongside the police, reports said.
The Taliban said in a statement that the attacks were revenge for American soldiers killing 16 Afghan civilians in March and burning several copies of the Quran in February, and spelled the start of a “spring offensive” which was in the works for months.
Show of Force
The attacks were aimed at exposing the weakness of the NATO-trained Afghan law enforcement forces, said Omar Nessar, who heads the Center for Contemporary Afghan Studies think-tank in Moscow.
“They neither fully succeeded nor failed,” Nessar said. Militants held their positions in Kabul for some 18 hours before they were eliminated, but no foreigners or legislators were reported dead, and casualties were low among the Afghani police.
Analysts linked the attacks to the “Qatar process,” or unofficial peace talks between the United States and the Taliban, interrupted by the movement after the murder of 16 Afghanis in March.
The attacks also came a day after Afghan President Hamid Karzai appointed the new head of the Afghan High Peace Council, a body responsible for Kabul’s own talks with Taliban, and were an apparent reaction to the staff decision, Nessar said.
The Taliban is not strong enough to regain control of the country it held before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, but it hopes a show of strength will get it more seats in the government after NATO’s departure, said Korgun of the Institute of Oriental Studies.
The attacks also hint at tensions within the Taliban, analysts said. The “spring offensive” was reportedly carried out by the Haqqani Network, a Taliban affiliate group whose leaders are hoping to score important governmental jobs for themselves, Nessar said.
With two years left for negotiations before NATO’s withdrawal, the United States, Karzai’s government and the Taliban stand a chance of working out a compromise, Nessar said. But a “catastrophic” scenario of intensified civil strife after 2014 cannot be ruled out either, he said.
The United States announced plans to pull their forces out of Afghanistan in 2011, followed by other members of the NATO coalition. Some 80,000 U.S. troops are currently left in the country and are set to leave it by 2014, though some officials said that American forces may remain in Afghanistan after that time to continue training local law enforcement personnel.
Russian President Putin said in March that Afghanistan would need to launch a national reconciliation effort involving the Islamist militant group Taliban if it drops ties to Al Qaeda and other terrorist movements.
“The Taliban are a hard negotiation partner, and the United States are also acting tougher in Afghanistan than the Soviet Union” during the invasion in the 1980s, said Andrei Klimov, first deputy head of the international affairs committee at the Russian State Duma.
“We imposed Communism, but also built roads and schools. The United States impose nothing, but also build nothing and do little to battle poppy production,” Klimov said.
Exports of poppy-based illegal drugs, including heroin, from Afghanistan to Russia skyrocketed in the 2000s, though president-elect Vladimir Putin praised the NATO coalition for its efforts to curb drug outflow from Afghanistan.