On 17 August, a terror attack was carried out on a mosque near Quetta, in southwest Pakistan. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, but this region has seen a number of attacks in recent years attributed to Baloch separatists, the Pakistani Taliban, and local groups affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The attack itself is reported to have killed four people and wounded twenty, but authorities have noted that this death toll could rise. Amongst the victims of the attack was Hafiz Ahmadullah, imam of the Khair Ul Madaris mosque in the town of Kurchak. Ahmadullah is the brother of the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzada. Fears that this attack would derail peace talks were dismissed by Taliban sources on Saturday.
The eighth round of peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and the United States has recently come to its official end. While there were fears that this latest attack would cause the Taliban to re-evaluate, sources speaking to the media have allayed these worries. Speaking to Reuters, one Taliban leader said, “If someone thinks martyring our leaders would stop us from our goal they’re living in a fool’s paradise.” Referring to the recently-concluded discussion with the United States, this leader noted, “We are close to our goals.” In some ways, it is remarkable that Taliban leaders are still pursuing peace so doggedly following this attack. The death of family members, particularly due to an attack which occurred during Friday prayers, could easily be used as justification to continue the conflict. That the Taliban are not interested in doing so appears to show recognition that the war in Afghanistan has continued for too long.
The path to peace has been long and winding for Afghanistan. Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, over 31,000 civilian deaths have been reported, with an additional 29,900 civilians wounded. These numbers do not factor in the casualties which have occurred in neighbouring Pakistan, which has seen conflict spill over the border with terrorist attacks. Losses for Afghanistan are further complicated due to the nation’s recent history: since the Soviet-Afghan War of the 1980s, Afghanistan has been in a state of near-constant turmoil, with war becoming a standard part of daily life. That the Taliban are so willing to reach a peace agreement with the United States and the government of Afghanistan is reassuring. However, there are fears that the Taliban will take advantage of such a deal in order to reassert their control over the nation, and this would be an unacceptable outcome. It was under Taliban rule that strict sharia law was established, and this led to a number of serious human rights violations. Taliban rule of the nation also saw Afghanistan become a sanctuary for militant groups, and it was this which influenced the American decision to invade the nation.
If these peace talks can reach a successful conclusion, conflict may finally recede in Afghanistan. For nearly 40 years the nation has been wracked by war, with the Soviet invasion of the 1980s being followed by a number of civil wars in the 1990s, and finally with the U.S.-led coalition invasion of 2001. In this time, multiple generations have been forced to grow up in a world where violence is commonplace, and the value of human life cheapened by the potential for such sudden death. A successful peace may finally allow the nation to flourish, but it hinges on Taliban, American, and Afghan cooperation.
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