Over 10,000 civilians were killed or injured in Afghanistan in 2019. The damning figures revealed in a recent United Nations report detail the record-high levels of causalities during the Afghan war, and underpin the need for substantial efforts to bring about peace.
The report states that the Taliban, Islamic State, and other militant groups were responsible for 49% of the deaths, while allied forces – which included the U.S.-led coalition – caused 43% of the deaths. The remaining 8% were assessed as a result of other conflicts.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet described how people in Afghanistan continue to experience some of the most extreme forms of violence due to the armed conflict, which has continued for the past decades.
Background on the Afghanistan War
After Osama Bin Laden was identified as the orchestrater behind the September 11 attacks – which killed almost 3,000 people – the US launched airstrikes in Afghanistan. The attacks came after the Taliban – the Islamic fundamentalist group who controlled most of Afghanistan – refused to hand bin Laden over, prompting President George W. Bush to announce the first raids on October 7, 2001.
The Taliban was eventually ousted, yet their stronghold over Afghanistan persisted and they continued to wage conflicts on the already war-torn country.
Afghanistan’s Four Decades of War
Yet, Afghanistan has been in a state of war for almost four decades – long before the US occupation in 2001. Back in 1979, the Soviet Union invaded the nation, with almost 100,000 Russian troops taking over many of the major cities. Rebels, known as the mujahideen – supported by the US, China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, and other countries – created a resistance movement that lasted for almost nine years. During this period, it was estimated that almost one million civilians were killed, as well as thousands fighting in both armies.
After the Russian withdrawal in 1989, a civil war among the mujahideen themselves sprang up. Triggered by tribal and ethnic divisions, the conflicts that ensued saw the Taliban rise to prominence. Their rule was carried out under the iron-fist of strict Sharia laws until their strong links to al-Qaeda – founded by bin Laden – led to the retaliation by the West for 9/11.
‘For the Past 40 Years the Afghan People Have Faced Enormous Challenges’
Dr. Nooralhaq Nasimi is the Founder and Director, Afghanistan and Central Asian Association (ACAA) and recipient of the Queen’s Award for outstanding voluntary service in communities. A former refugee from Afghanistan now living in London, he has campaigned for almost twenty years for the rights of Afghan refugees.
“For the past 40 years, the Afghan people have faced enormous challenges, problems, devastations, and displacement. Not only that, but they have also suffered from severe poverty, and violations of both human and women rights,” Dr. Nasimi said.
“After the mujahideen, the Taliban came into power and it became the most barbaric and cruel regime in our history – especially for women. Afghanistan became very isolated from the rest of the world and there was little hope for peace or stability.”
He was not surprised that 10,000 civilians were reported to be injured or killed last year. Since the Taliban resumed their activities with the support of their allies, he highlighted that hundreds of suicide explosions have also marred the country and the on-going clashes have led to one of the biggest issues facing Afghanistan – a refugee epidemic as thousands fled to find a safer place.
The US-Taliban Peace Deal
After almost a year and a half of negotiations, the US and Taliban signed a peace deal on 19 February 2020, with the view to end America’s 18-year-old war. The US has agreed to remove 8,600 of its 12,000 troops during the first 135 days; the remainder will be withdrawn over the coming 14 months. The agreement also included the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners with an agreement from the Taliban to not launch attacks from Afghanistan on the US and its allies.
The agreement was made after a seven-day “reduction in violence” as a means for the Taliban to show their commitment to a peace deal. Yet, just two days after the deal, an explosion in Khost killed 3 and left 11 injured.
Dr. Nasimi said he is dubious about the signing of the agreement and believed it could spell a completely new war or possibly further conflicts.
“Some believe that this will create a new war, and some think new conflicts will resume because of the tribal divisions. Just recently, the election results announced Ashraf Ghani as the president, but the leader of the opposition, Abdullah Abdullah, rejected the vote and announced a parallel government, which shows that the country is, again, going towards division.”
He also called into question the Taliban’s commitment to upholding their end of the deal.
“There is a lack of transparency, which makes Afghans very unhappy,” Nasimi said. “The public knows very little about the conditions made by the Taliban and the Taliban are not honest, so you can’t rely on their words. They claim they are representing the people of Afghanistan and this is simply not true.”
The New Arab reported on Tuesday that Taliban militants had carried out more than a dozen attacks on Afghan army bases, hours after ending a partial truce and throwing into doubt peace talks between Kabul and the insurgents.