By Fatima Umar
The recent wave of violent and terror attacks coupled by rocket attacks in Helmand, South of Afghanistan, by Taliban, amidst inter and intra Afghan Peace Talks have led to displacement of more than 5000 families which sought refugee in Lashkar Gah, Nad Ali and Marja. The inquisition that arises from this recent escalation, resulting in losses on opposing sides, as well as civilian causalities is that why there is a sudden surge in assaults, despite Peace Talks and why is Helmand under attack?
Turning back the pages of history, reflecting upon the long-standing rift between US, NATO and Afghan Taliban while Afghan government holding a considerable position, the quest for Helmand is happening since the very beginning of US invasion and war on terror, 2001.This land has seen several peaks of insurgency and re-insurgency while a gauge of 20,000 NATO troops have been deployed along with Afghan National Defense and Security Forces in just Helmand, the contestants against Taliban have reasonably failed to get hold of the land.
Having an analytical outlook of situation in Afghanistan and its regional and international implications, the answer to why there is sudden surge might lie in the opinion that Afghan Taliban despite being on a round table of negotiation want an upper hand while peace talks are going on, as they have agreed to narrow down attacks only if the US assures to suspend its air strikes.
Taliban, being the ones using might of sword than that of pen, still believe that by such tactics they might be able to make Afghan government and the US aware of their present influence and strength. It is even evident from the fact that, after ANDSF took control of Afghanistan in 2014, in the face of 30,000 of its troops, along with training, advisory and assistive US forces, numbering 1000, 11 districts of Helmand are still under Taliban control, even parts of provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, with white hoisted flags.
Having a perspective about reason behind abrupt upswing in aggression from Taliban side, the reason why Helmand primarily lies in its strategic importance for Taliban. First and foremost, Helmand is the largest province of Afghanistan which makes up approximately 22619 square miles of Afghan territory. Furthermore, this chunk of Afghanistan is blessed with most fertile soil due to the warm and favorable climatic conditions as well as the presence and flow of Helmand river, which aids irrigation and agriculture. Along with this, opium cultivation brings massive financial income to Taliban. Helmand is not only rich in agriculture but is famous for having marble mines in its Khanashin district. Smuggling of marble also adds to Taliban capital income.
Its strategic location is of great importance as well, not only it is near to Kabul-Herat National Highway, but it also connects the western provinces to Kabul and Kandahar. Bahramcha, South of Helmand makes this province hub of narcotics’ smuggling, which is another asset used by Taliban to gain finances, while Helmand’s borders with Iran and Baluchistan makes smuggling much easier. Withal, as mentioned earlier the warm climatic conditions are not only favorable for harvest, but provide ease in mobility and logistic supply of insurgent groups. The last possible reason for having strong hold in Helmand is the lack of basic necessities, education, awareness and security.
With the strikes and ambush entering the 10th day, the far-reaching consequences of this are yet to be witnessed. Will Trump or the upcoming holder of White House pull out forces in a hasty manner as spoken by Donald Trump while Taliban are showing their might with full swing? The ramifications of an impetuous Soviet escape from Afghanistan led to detrimental effects in not just Afghanistan but across oceans, as well. Will history be repeated? Or successful use of diplomatic moves and negotiation skills will manage the game in these uncertain times of US elections? The answers to these questions are to be revealed in near future. For now, as Zalmay Khalilzad, Afghan-American Diplomat said: “Violence has stalked Afghans for far too long. It has robbed too many Afghans of their loved ones. Adding to the same tweet he mentioned: “Continued high levels of violence can threaten the peace process and the agreement and the core understanding that there is no military solution.”
Fatima Umar is Research Assistant at Policy East