Syed Zafar Mehdi
Barely a week after the US officials reportedly held ‘secret talks’ with the Taliban in Qatar, the insurgent group has launched a series of coordinated attacks in multiple provinces across Afghanistan. According to media reports, more than 200 Afghan security personnel have been killed over the past four days in fighting with the Taliban in three different provinces – Ghazni, Faryab and Baghlan.
The worst-hit has been the southeastern city of Ghazni, where more than 100 Afghan security forces have been killed already, according to local health officials, and the fighting rages on. Taliban insurgents appear to be in control of most of the strategic city, which is situated on the highway connecting Kabul with southern Kandahar province, 150km east from the capital.
Taliban launched the deadly ambush in Ghazni in the early hours of Friday. Even though there are conflicting claims over who controls the city right now, provincial officials have been quoted saying that only the governor’s office, police headquarters and intelligence agency’s compound were in the hands of the government forces.
The city, which has strategic importance for both sides, appears to have been overrun. That has obviously shocked and saddened many people. “Ghazni is a culturally rich city that was a hub of the Islamic world and home to major figures, including famed scholar Al-Biruni and Sultan Mahmud of the Ghaznavid dynasty,” wrote a Twitter user Lily Massoud. “It is agonizing to see the inevitable damage being done to our heritage and people by the Taliban”.
People can’t reach out to their relatives and friends in Ghazni as the Taliban fighters have bombed telecommunication towers. Ahmad Shuja tweeted on Sunday that for two days he had not been able to contact his relatives trapped in the fighting in Ghazni. “The power is out, telecom services are off and people can’t flee the city. Like others in Ghazni, we don’t know if our relatives have enough food or if they are harmed.”
Shuja, who researches and writes about international security and human rights, said the 3 out of 18 districts in Ghazni that are not in Taliban control “are now like islands in shark-infested waters: cut off from the rest of the province”.
Media reports quoted the health officials in Ghazni saying that the hospital rooms were teeming with wounded people and mortuaries were full. Ehsanullah Amiri, a Kabul-based journalist, said a doctor who fled the city told him that 114 dead bodies were lying at the provincial hospital and 142 wounded people were undergoing treatment.
There are also reports that the road on the city outskirts has been mined, making it difficult for people to flee or for military reinforcements to reach Ghazni. Afghanistan’s leading news channel Tolo News reported that the Afghan military convoy on way to Ghazni from neighboring Paktia province had been ambushed by the Taliban fighters about 80km from Ghazni city.
The Taliban fighters, contrary to what the Afghan and US army spokespersons earlier said, were not hiding but roaming the streets freely and fearlessly, said a source. On Sunday, Lt Col Martin O’Donnell, the spokesperson of US forces in Afghanistan, said the Afghan army “continues to hold their ground and maintains control of all government centres”. Mohammad Sharif Yaftali, Afghan army chief of staff, also said that the city was not under threat of collapse. “Strategic locations and centres in the city are under the control of Afghan forces and the Taliban are hiding inside people’s homes and shops and resisting,” he said at a press conference in Kabul.
“The US military officials in Afghanistan have been playing down the attack, saying it was another failed (Taliban) attempt to seize the territory, but they have absolutely no idea about what is happening in Ghazni city,” said Parvez Mangal, a Kabul-based security analyst. “Afghan government is living in denial, as always, refusing to admit its failure in providing security to people.” Pertinently, the US military had conducted air strikes few days ago to repel the Taliban fighters, but to no avail.
President Ashraf Ghani-led government in Kabul has come under blistering criticism for failing to contain violence. Last month, the UN said civilian deaths in the war-ravaged country had reached record high in the first half of the year. Afghan government’s efforts to invite the Taliban for peace talks have proved futile as the insurgent group has categorically stated that it will talk directly with the US Last week, there were reports about ‘preliminary talks’ between the Taliban and the US in Qatar, in which the two sides reportedly discussed the ‘marriage of convenience’ between them.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, while the battle for the control of Ghazni was raging on, President Ghani was celebrating International Youth Day in Kabul, assuring young audience that the “regional cooperation forged in past few years will change the lives of future generations in Afghanistan”. He did not utter even a single word about Ghazni and how the present generation of Afghanistan was being wiped off in this dirty war.
“While everyone counts the rise of casualties of ANSF (Afghan security forces), the president is busy celebrating Youth Day, not mentioning what is happening in the country even once. Ghazni, Faryab and how many more to come,” Masood Sanjar, Director at MOBY Group, tweeted. His words were echoed by many others, which sum up the sad state of affairs in Afghanistan.