The Taliban continue to attack civilians in Afghanistan despite reportedly pledging to negotiators in Qatar that they would stop. What is the militant group trying to achieve by continuing these violent attacks?
Fakhruddin Fayaz left his home in Afghanistan's western Herat province for Kabul in 2015 to pursue a career. Last Friday, the 24-year-old was on his way to Kabul University to register for the bar exam when he and seven other people were killed in a car bomb explosion just outside the university.
"They brought him back to me in a coffin," Ghausuddin, Fayaz's father, told DW.
"The last time I saw him was less than two months ago. He told me about his plans to help the family after completing his studies," his father said.
Fayaz' story is a cruel reminder of how Afghan civilians have been paying the price for the ongoing war in their country. On Thursday, a series of bombings rocked Kabul, killing at least 10 people – including children – and wounding dozens. The same day, a car carrying a family to a wedding was hit by a roadside bomb in the eastern Nangarhar province, killing six women and three children – all from the same family.
In the past few months, Taliban attacks and operations by Afghan and international forces have killed scores of civilians across the war-torn country. Experts say that the Islamist insurgents are trying to demonstrate their strength in the battlefield as they talk peace in Doha, Qatar.
According to UN statistics, at least 3,804 Afghan civilians, including 927 children, lost their lives in 2018. This year, according to NATO, the Taliban have killed 1,075 people since April 11.
"It is difficult to give the actual number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan," Lal Gul Lal, head of Afghanistan's Human Rights Organization, told DW, claiming the Afghan government does not want to reveal the high number of casualties, while the UN documentation system is too complex.
Position of strength
The latest attacks across Afghanistan come at a time when the Taliban and the US negotiators are discussing peace in Qatar. Both sides claim to have made progress.
Read more: Were Afghan peace talks in Qatar a success?
"Our talks with the US have entered final stages," Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban's political office in Doha, Qatar, told DW.
Shaheen said that all parties to the conflict need to agree to one last issue before moving on to the next stage. He did not elaborate which topic is under discussion, but reports from Kabul say that the Taliban are still reluctant to talk to the Afghan government.
Security analysts say that civilian casualties could mount amid peace talks because both the Taliban and Afghan security forces want to negotiate from a position of strength.
"Both sides want to have an upper hand in negotiations," Aziz Rafiee, managing director of the Afghan Civil Society Forum, told DW.
"We don't expect the number of attacks to go down while talks continue. On the contrary, there could be more bloodshed," he added.
Violent attacks are not only perpetrated by the Taliban; other armed militant groups like "Islamic State" (IS) and Taliban factions that oppose a peace deal with the US and Afghan authorities are also targeting civilians. Two of the three explosions on Thursday in Kabul were claimed by IS, which has gained strength in eastern Afghanistan, but is also carrying out deadly attacks in other parts of the country.
Experts say that irrespective of a potential peace deal between the Taliban and the US, Taliban factions and other militant groups will not cease violence.
"Unless there is an all-inclusive peace process, I fear the civilian killings will not stop in Afghanistan," Rafiee warned.
Peace, but with justice
Experts say that another reason behind the high number of civilian casualties is the absence of a proper justice system in the country.
"I cannot recall a single case in which the government tried and punished a terrorist mastermind," said Lal.
"People have lost trust in judicial commissions that investigate terrorism cases because nobody knows about the outcome," he added.
Lal says that even after a deal with the Taliban, justice for victims and their families should not be compromised.
"Those who killed people must be held accountable for their acts. This is the only way to honor the victims and their families," Lal underlined.