In a series of coordinated attacks, the Afghan Taliban have demonstrated their strength and unwillingness to compromise. While comments from NATO have been positive, experts are less optimistic.
In a string of coordinated attacks, the Taliban wreaked havoc in parts of the Afghan capital Kabul and other parts of the country from Sunday afternoon to early Monday morning.
People in parts of Kabul and neigbhoring provinces held their breath as consulates and the parliament building were targeted along with police and NATO facilities in Paktia, Logar and Nangarhar. In Kabul, the insurgents had infiltrated a building that was under construction and carried out their attacks from there.
According to media reports, the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, which has also been operating in Afghan cities for a while now, played a role in the onslaught. Figures from the Afghan Interior Ministry put the number of casualties at 47 people, including 36 extremists, eight security personnel and three civilians. Many Kabul residents say it reminded them of the civil war at the beginning of the 1990s.
"My children cried the entire night," one resident of Kabul's diplomatic area said. "What the Taliban are doing is neither humane nor Islamic," the resident said, adding: "May God punish them. We want a quiet life. We just want peace."
Far off from peace
But peace with the Taliban appears unlikely to happen any time soon. The spokesman of the self-proclaimed "holy warriors" praised the group for its Sunday attacks and said it marked the beginning of the spring offensive.
Miagul Wasiq, an expert on Afghan politics, believes the Taliban, like NATO, are following a double strategy: fight and negotiate.
"The Taliban have made clear once again that they reject peace talks as stipulated by the Afghan government," he said. "They refuse to accept the country's democratic constitution and do not wish to end their cooperation with other terrorist networks.“
Through the new string of attacks, Wasiq believes, the Taliban were able to strengthen their position for future negotiations.
With help from the international community, the Afghan government has been trying to get the Taliban to the table for talks for the past five years. So far, all efforts have been in vain.
The first leader of the Afghan Peace Council was killed last September in a suicide attack carried out by the Taliban. On Saturday - just one day before the orchestrated terrorist attacks - President Hamid Karzai appointed the new head of the peace council. Afghanistan's number one terrorist organization reacted promptly and brutally.
Afghanistan expert Conrad Schetter of Bonn University's Center for Development Research, said the Taliban used their coordinated attacks as a demonstration of power and organizational talent.
"For the past few months, it has appeared as though the Taliban were no longer capable of carrying out large, coordinated attacks, or that they had at least not planned any such attacks.," he said. "But Sunday proved just the opposite: that the Taliban are capable of carrying out such assaults.“
Schetter said that not even the secret services had seen it coming - something that the Afghan president's office has confirmed.
Like Schetter, many Afghanistan experts believe the incident was a show of strength. But that strength, at the same time, also means the weakness of Afghan security, according to Afghan military expert Helaludin Hellal.
"The Taliban carried out a similar attack in September of last year in Kabul," he said. "The new onslaught indicates that Afghan security forces did not learn their lesson from the last time.“
Hellal pointed out the Islamists' capability to infiltrate a building right next to highly secured government and ally buildings. The "quick and effective" reaction of Afghan security, on the other hand, was commended by ISAF and the United States. US diplomat Ryan Crocker said it was a sign of progression on the part of Afghan forces.
Learning from the attacks
Hellal expects an increase in the number of such events. "Each successful Taliban attack hurts the image of the Afghan government and its allies and attracts support from the Afghan people,“ he said.
And Kabul would do well to prepare for that. By the end of 2013, the Afghan army and police force are to take over full security for their country. But without a drastic expansion of Afghanistan's security forces, Hellal believes the Taliban will be impossible to stop.
Author: Ratbil Shamel / sb
Editor: John Blau