It seems as if there is no end in sight to the spate of deadly attacks occurring relentlessly in Afghanistan, killing scores and throwing lives in disarray. Is the new US strategy responsible for this spike in terror?
A string of brutal attacks over the past several weeks, killing and injuring hundreds of innocent Afghans, have shown the world the fragile and worsening state of security in Afghanistan and made it once again a staple of international headlines.
The incidents have plunged war-weary Afghan citizens into a state of despair and highlighted the limitations faced by the government in Kabul in ensuring public security.
Both the Taliban and the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) have claimed responsibility for the violence.
A bloody start
2018 did not start on a positive note for the nation ravaged by the vagaries of conflict and turmoil over the past several decades. Many Afghans believe the attacks they have witnessed in January mark only the beginning in the latest bout of violence. Fears abound about the number of casualties rising in the coming months. The alleged peace talks that were mentioned only a few weeks ago are now but a distant memory.
What are the reasons for this surge in violence?
The latest attacks can be regarded as a response to the recent US military offensive in the Afghan provinces Helmand, Nangarhar, Kunduz and others, said A.D. Mohammad Arif, an Afghan security expert.
"The Taliban usually start their offensive after the winter (as a spring offensive), but they have now brought it forward in response to the US' new Afghanistan strategy. They want to show that they are far from being defeated," Arif told DW.
Unlike in previous years, the US, along with Afghan security forces, began its offensive against the insurgents in the winter this year. The move is part of the US' new Afghan strategy, unveiled by President Donald Trump in August 2017.
Trump then affirmed that he would increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan and remain engaged in the country until it no longer needed them. The US president also blamed Pakistan as the main reason for the lack of progress in Afghanistan.
To lend weight to his words, Trump even froze US military aid to Islamabad.
Washington's stated objective is to put pressure on Pakistan until Pakistani authorities revoke their alleged support to outfits like the Afghan Taliban and other insurgent groups.
The right solution?
At a press conference on Monday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani indirectly blamed Pakistan for the recent series of attacks. "(The Taliban) have claimed responsibility without hesitation, as per their masters' wish. These masters have made it clear that they will not bow to pressure from the outside," said Ghani.
Nicole Birtsch, an Afghanistan expert, is also of the view that the recent attacks could be a reaction to the air strikes and anti-insurgent operations the US military and Afghan security forces have been jointly carrying out against the Taliban.
Birtsch is unconvinced about the effectiveness of the US strategy to pressure Pakistan. "The strategy does not lead to a conducive environment for the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan to hold talks on an equal footing."
The analyst says she is not optimistic about the near future, suspecting that the coming weeks will continue to be characterized by escalating violence. "I fear that people in Kabul, in particular, are losing hope for a more stable future because of the violence. They are therefore merely surviving rather than living."