Afghan offensive against Taliban threatens peace deal

US president Donald Trump’s signature peace deal is in jeopardy after Afghanistan’s president pledged to take the fight to the Taliban in the wake of a maternity ward massacre.

Ashraf Ghani ordered the military to switch from “active defence” to offence against the Taliban, which denied the attack. The call to action has piled even more pressure on Mr Trump’s fragile peace deal that was meant to end America’s longest running war.

On Tuesday, gunmen stormed a hospital in the capital Kabul and shot mothers and their babies. Of the 24 people killed, two were newborn babies. Harrowing photos from the scene showed soldiers carrying babies wrapped in bloody blankets to safety.

“This is brutal,” said Omar Sadr, assistant professor of political science at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul. “For a time, Kabul hadn’t witnessed such attacks, but this crosses every boundary.”

On the same day, a suicide bomber attacked the funeral of a police officer in the province of Nangarhar, killing more than 20 people. Islamic State said it carried out the funeral attack, but no group has claimed responsibility for the assault on the hospital.

In the months since the peace deal was signed in Qatar on February 29, fighting has intensified in Afghanistan. Taliban attacks on Afghan soldiers have increased, according to the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction in an April 30 report.

“Ghani’s announcement to resume military operations against the Taliban is a disturbing development,” said Asfandyar Mir, South Asia analyst at Stanford University, on Thursday. “If he follows through, the Taliban will further escalate violence, which will derail the peace process.”

The US has begun withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and aims to leave just 8,600 troops stationed in the country by mid-July. The remaining troops will withdraw within 14 months if the Taliban upholds its commitments, which include not harbouring other Islamic groups, such as Islamic State, in Afghanistan.

The fate of the talks has become increasingly uncertain after the collapse of a prisoner swap deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The goodwill gesture was supposed to bring both parties to the negotiating table.

The March 10 deadline for intra-Afghan talks between the Kabul government and the Taliban, which analysts said was crucial to achieve lasting peace in the war-torn country, passed without any negotiations.

“The attacks of the last two months show us and the world that the Taliban and their sponsors do not and did not intend to pursue peace,” tweeted Hamdullah Mohib, the Afghan national security adviser.

He added that if the Taliban was unable to control the violence, then there “seems little point in continuing to engage the Taliban in peace talks”.

In response to the sharp rise in violence, Mr Trump said on Wednesday that he wanted Afghanistan to manage its own affairs.

“In Kabul we’ve had some, I understand some pretty big blow-ups, but again you count on a government to be able to police themselves,” said Mr Trump, who has pledged to bring US troops back home and is facing a tough re-election battle in November.

“They’re having a hard time I suspect.”

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