His words sound gloomy, almost hopeless. “We have lost control of all the districts and also the highways, only the city is controlled by the government.” Kamal Safi is a member of the Afghan Parliament – and represents Kunduz Province there. It’s in northern Afghanistan where the Bundeswehr was stationed until it left.
The Taliban are now focusing the fighting mainly on the former German area of operations. This is where the Islamists encountered particularly stubborn resistance during their regime from 1996 to 2001. That is why they now want to take a particularly large part of the territory in the region – in the struggle for full power in the country.
“Only Kunduz City is still controlled by the government, but about 30 percent of the Taliban are already active here,” Kamal Safi said on the phone. He has no faith in the government and has no clear plan to recapture the areas lost by the Taliban. And if the security forces do achieve military gain, it is of little strategic value in his view – because of the consequences for the civilian population.
“Thousands of people have been displaced by the fighting, they live in the worst conditions, their basic needs such as shelter, food and water are not met,” says Kamal Safi. According to official information, 11,200 families are fleeing the fighting in Kunduz alone. A spokesman for the Kunduz governor promised that about half of them would receive help, the others would also be taken care of soon.
The Taliban are targeting the north, where there has always been fierce resistance
In Afghanistan, fighting has escalated in recent weeks. The West’s withdrawal has once again exacerbated the security situation: after the last protection forces left the country, a bloody race for post-war order is now underway.
The Afghan government has fallen behind: More than half of Afghan districts are already under Taliban control, the respected Kabul Afghanistan Analyst Networks (AAN) shows in a detailed report.
In addition to the north of the country, the Taliban also concentrated on border crossings and other strategically important points where money can be raised. Above all, they wanted to prevent the emergence of a “second northern alliance”, that is, powerful warlords who rose up against them during their regime and who sided with the West in overthrowing the Islamists.
The AAN experts conclude that while the Taliban are currently successful, “they may reach the point where their forces become overstretched”. What matters is whether popular militias are on the side of government forces.
US intelligence believes government could be overthrown in just six months
However, the US secret services recently corrected their estimate that the political leadership in Kabul will be able to remain in power for at least two years after the Western withdrawal. Security experts in the US now believe that the government of President Ashraf Ghani could collapse within six to 12 months under pressure from the Taliban.
From the point of view of Ahmed Rashid, one of the most renowned Taliban experts, Islamists are positioning themselves primarily for negotiations through their military offensive: “The Taliban would rather see the Afghan government surrender than have it on the battlefield. to beat for unnecessary blood If Kabul defies them, anything is possible,” he says.
This lecture fits in with a message from Taliban leader Haibatullah Achundsada on Sunday, in which he discusses the military land gains made by his movement, but also emphasizes that the Taliban were “serious” in finding a political solution to the war. However, for that to happen, there must be a genuine Islamic system in Afghanistan.
The Taliban leader also addressed the international community directly: his group wanted “good, strong diplomatic, economic and political relations” with other countries in the world. Achundsada promised that Afghan soil would pose no threat to other countries. Analysts see this as a sign that the Taliban want to continue to oppose terrorist groups so as not to risk the West stopping aid payments to the country.
Wherever the Taliban rule, they maintain their draconian version of Sharia
But that the Taliban have changed something in their socio-political attitude – despite these signals, observers in Kabul have huge doubts. “In the areas that have come under their control, they have introduced strict Sharia law and imposed restrictions on women in particular,” said an analyst from Kabul, who declined to be named.
The hopes of many Afghans are now pinned on peace talks that have hitherto stalled. Last weekend, Taliban representatives in Doha met with a group sent by the government around chief negotiator Abdullah Abdullah and ex-president Hamid Karzai. In several rounds of talks, all “fundamental questions” should be addressed, including the distribution of political power, the constitution and a possible ceasefire.
But not only is the internal conflict still unresolved, the old feud with neighboring Pakistan is also intensifying. Kabul accuses Islamabad of supporting the Taliban. Vice President Amrullah Saleh last week accused Pakistan of even providing air support to the Taliban – an accusation the Pakistani government routinely denied.
However, Western intelligence also assumes that the Afghan Taliban will find shelter in Pakistan, and that management will continue to give their instructions to commanders in the field from the Pakistani city of Quetta.
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan hit a new low on Friday when the daughter of the Afghan ambassador to Islamabad was briefly kidnapped. She was physically assaulted before being released a few hours later, both governments confirmed. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday ordered security authorities to investigate the matter within 48 hours and bring the perpetrators to justice.
But for Afghan Vice-President Saleh, it had long been clear who was behind the crime: “This is not the first case, but the first spectacular case involving a woman,” he said via short message service Twitter. Harassment of diplomats who refuse to cooperate is a common practice of Pakistani intelligence services.
An Afghan journalist in Kabul contributed to this story.