Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

War and Peace

Voices from the Districts, the Violence Mapped (1): What has happened since the reduction in violence ended?

AAN Team 23 min

When the United States and Taleban signed their agreement on 29 February 2020, the accompanying eight-day long reduction in violence officially ended. Although many had hoped the violence would remain down, the Taleban said their war would continue, no longer against foreign forces, but against those of the Afghan government. In this report, we look at what has happened since then. Speaking to people across the country, we have heard varying accounts, of the Taleban resuming attacks in some places, and of calm still reigning in others. In one province, we were told of public gatherings where people had urged the Taleban not to fight. The patchy nature of violence across the country can also be seen in maps commissioned by AAN to help discern where violence has returned. Kate Clark and Jelena Bjelica have made an initial assessment of the post-reduction period, with research by Khadija Hussaini, Said Reza Kazemi, Fazal Muzhary, Sayed Asadullah Sadat, Ali Mohammad Sabawoon and Rohullah Sorush, and maps by Roger Helms.

Balloons and doves released to celebrate the reduction in violence in Jalalabad on 28 February 2020. Violent incidents had fallen by 75% that week, but what would happen next? Photo: Noorullah Shirzada/AFP

The reduction in violence (RiV), agreed as a prelude to the US-Taleban agreement, turned out to have been highly effective. It was conceived as a demonstration of the Taleban’s command and control, to show that they could keep a rein on their fighters during a test period of one week. Government and US forces also agreed not to attack the Taleban. Security incidents were estimated as having fallen by about 75 per cent (figure given by different sources to AAN, confidentially). The drop was somewhat less than what the agreed ­80 per cent, but still deemed sufficient to prove Taleban capabilities. It is clearly shown in the maps and graph below. 

Following the end of the RiV, which was extended to eight days to cover the signing of the US-Taleban agreement on 29 February 2020, the war, according to the Taleban, was back on. Political Commission member Sher Abbas Stanakzai said on 1 March that their fight against government forces would resume the following day, something that was confirmed by Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed (both quoted in this AAN report) on 2 March:

The reduction in violence… has ended now and our operations will continue as normal. …  As per the (US-Taleban) agreement, our mujahideen will not attack foreign forces but our operations will continue against the Kabul administration forces.

The text of the US-Taleban agreement (analysed in this AAN report) gave no explicit protection to Afghan forces or civilians. It did prohibit the Taleban from threatening the “security of the US and its allies,” which might or might not have included Afghans. However, on 2 March, Commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan General Austin Miller tweeted a warning:

The reduction in violence was a confidence builder. We’re very serious about our obligations and we expect the Taliban will be serious about their obligations. The United States has been very clear about our expectations—the violence must remain low. 

On 4 March, Miller was also quoted as saying, US forces would “continue to defend the Afghan security forces.” That day, the US launched its first airstrike against the Taleban in eleven days. It targeted fighters who, the US said, had been attacking an Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) checkpoint in Nahr-e Saraj in Helmand. The lack of outrage from the Taleban about this strike suggested that their string of attacks – according to the US military spokesman, against 43 checkposts in Helmand the previous day – had indeed breached some sort of understanding. A US official told AAN that there was an agreement with the Taleban that a reduction in violence “which is meaningful and should be felt by the Afghan people” would continue after the signing of the agreement. Communications between the Taleban and the US was continuing on a daily basis, AAN was also told. 

The picture, then, is messy and confused, and throws up many questions, firstly: Was there an understanding? The Taleban have been publically jubilant about their victory, as they see it, and what they hope is the approaching end of the ‘occupation’; they have given no public indication that they would tamp down their attacks against the Afghan government. Events on the ground, however, suggest they did have an understanding with the Americans. It could be, though, that this was agreed in Doha, but not in Quetta, and that the Taleban’s leadership council had not really signed up to it, or has chosen to ignore it. 

The posture of both the Afghan government and US has remained defensive since 29 February, although Minister of Defence Asadullah Khaled did warn on 8 March that government forces would switch to an offensive mode if the Taleban persisted in attacking government forces and that they would “target the enemy everywhere” (see here). 

It seems important, then, to try and understand what happened on the ground in the immediate aftermath of the eight-day reduction in violence period, to see where Taleban attacks had resumed, and where they had not, and, if possible, to understand the variation. To this end, we carried out interviews with 21 people in 14 provinces to see what was happening in their areas. We also used open-source data to map security incidents. 

Methodology 

Our methodology was designed to triangulate quantitative and qualitative data with the aim of checking the perceptions, experiences and feelings of ordinary people against reported security incidents. 

For the quantitative data, we used the open-source, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) which collects the dates, actors, locations, fatalities, and modalities of all reported political violence and protest events across Afghanistan and other countries.[1] Cartographer, Roger Helms, used this data to map incidents across Afghanistan. The maps below show violent security-related incidents in the following weeks:

  • 8-14 February; 
  • 15-21 February; 
  • 22-28 February, which was the week of the Reduction in Violence;
  • 1-7 March;

We also created an additional map showing the overlapping of violent incidents in the weeks of 15 to 21 February (before the RiV) and 1 to 7 March (after the RiV).

In the week 2 to 8 March, we conducted interviews with 21 people in 14 provinces. Some were people we had earlier spoken to during the RiV week when we heard some scepticism, but mostly an overwhelming hope that the week would turn into a permanent ceasefire and finally, sustainable peace (see reporting here). The interviewees from the post-RiV period were, again, all ‘ordinary’ people, ie not security experts, government officials or combatants from either side. In order to ensure the readability of this report, we divided the interviews into six geographic areas: the east, one person in Kunar and another in Nangrahar provinces; the southeast, two people in Paktia and another in Khost; the central region, one person in Logar and three in Ghazni; the west, one person in Badghis, two in Ghor and two in Herat; the south, one person in Kandahar, another in Helmand and three in Zabul and; the north, one in Badakhshan and one in Takhar (interviewees have been anonymised ). The questionnaire can be found in an annex to this report.

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Analysis

The mapping of security incidents shows the clear drop in violence during the RiV and then its resurgence, almost back to the same level, in the following week – from 189 incidents recorded in the week before the RiV, to 33 during the RiF, to 169 incidents in the week after. Geographically, the incidents clustered in a similar pattern as before the RiV, with very few exceptions (see the overlap map below). This quantitative data suggests that violent incidents picked up exactly where they had left off at the beginning of the RiV period. However, some of our interviewees said that in their district the situation remained calmer than before the RiV. The reason for this discrepancy may be that the interviews were conducted before the incidents recorded in the map occurred, or that the violence did not directly impact or impress the interviewee.

The interviewees described a very patchy resumption of violence by the Taleban. Only about half of the interviewees reported that attacks had resumed in their areas. Security was worse in Mizan district of Zabul than before the RiV, according to an interviewee who pointed, in particular, to targeted killings. Immediately after the official RiV ended, said an interviewee in Panjwayi district of Kandahar, the Taleban launched “severe attacks on the government security posts.” In Takhar, the situation was described as generally good except for checkposts which the Taleban had put up on the road to Kunduz; they were reportedly stopping vehicles and ‘capturing’ some passengers.

In other places, interviewees reported – with some wonder and a sort of fearful hope for the future – that the situation remained calm. Many pondered the reasons for this: Was it the continuing bad weather, or orders from the top to desist? Several interviewees said they could not believe that local Taleban might themselves be dragging their feet and turning a blind eye to orders. This question is particularly important when trying to assess the next moves in this war: What exact orders were given by the Taleban Military Commission to their field commanders after the agreement, how far have they been adhered to, and what might be the Taleban’s plans now for their ‘spring offensive’? [2]

Particularly interesting in this regard is what one of the interviewees from Paktia described: local people holding public gatherings to urge the Taleban not to persist in their fighting. That local initiative failed – for now – but the groundswell of support for the reduction in violence to continue is clear. Particularly difficult for the Taleban may be their decision to cease attacking the ‘infidels’ and resume their ‘jihad’ only against their fellow Afghans, those who are in the ANSF or work for the government. There is a widespread popular desire for peace, but that has not yet translated into­ the sort of organised and effective activism that could influence the parties to the conflict. The final factor in hastening the end of the conflict could yet be the Afghan people, although for the time being, signs of this are few. Our interviewees, at least, mostly appear to see themselves as powerless to affect one side or the other.

The detail of how war and peace affects people’s lives does emerge clearly in the interviews, which can be read below: the woman in Andar district of Ghazni describing how a respite in rocketing from both sides meant they could leave their homes, the man from Nad Ali in Helmand speaking to us while a bombardment went on in the background and, in Obeh district in Herat, the description of an incident given as evidence of a deterioration in post-RiV security. In that case, crime and insurgency intersected: a shepherd was killed in the district and his sheep stolen, only for the suspected thieves to be picked up and killed by the Taleban. 

Afghan security forces stand guard at an ANA outpost in Kunduz Province, in the aftermath of a Taliban attack, four days after the RiV officially ended. Photo: STR / AFP, 4 March, 2020.

People’s experiences from around Afghanistan 

The southeast

Three interviewees from Paktia and Khost provinces gave a very mixed picture of the post-RiV situation. A civil society activist from Zurmat district in Paktia described the Taleban there immediately resuming their attacks once the RiV was over:

There were two explosions in Zurmat district centre, but without casualties. The Taleban also attacked security posts on the Zurmat to Gardez highway as well as the highway from Zurmat to Paktika. Both sides suffered casualties. Three police [in total] were killed. One of the attacks took place on the first day after the RiV and a policeman was killed: people named him ‘the Peace Hero’. However, compared to the past, fighting has decreased. The Taleban sometimes attack, but the government only defends… This week [post-RiV], security forces went to Mamozai, which is under the control of the Taleban. The Taleban did not do anything against them. It seems the situation is getting better.

“RiV has had positive impacts and changed the Taleban’s minds,” he said. “People are now hopeful.” 

A local journalist, also in Paktia, told AAN that on the second day after the RiV ended, the Taleban had launched extensive attacks against government security posts in four districts of the province – Zazi Aryub, Zurmat, Sayed Karam and Rohani Baba. He said there had also been public gatherings: 

When the RiV was over, the people in Paktia gathered and requested the Taleban not to resume fighting until the intra-Afghan talks began so that there is a building of trust. The people told the Taleban that anybody who starts fighting will be held accountable and responsible. However, when the Taleban issued a second order for their fighters, that said the RiV and the agreement was only [to not attack] foreign troops, and had not been made with the Afghan government, the Taleban resumed fighting.

A civil society activist from Spera District in neighbouring Khost described the situation there as still calm: 

Since the RiV, there has been no major incident or attack by the government or the Taleban. Spera is a very large and mountainous district. Minor conflicts did occasionally take place between the Taleban and the government forces, although without causalities. The RiV generally has had a good impact on the situation. It has given hope to the people that permanent peace will come.

He said ordinary people could travel anywhere without any fear, but “the government and NGO staff [still] can’t travel because there is no guarantee that the Taleban will not disturb them.”

Mobile phone coverage had long been poor in Paktia and Khost provinces, the interviewees reported, but, during and since the end of the RiV, it has been uninterrupted. 

The centre 

We interviewed three people in Ghazni province and one in Logar. All four reported that the situation in their area had been uncharacteristically calm. In Baraki Barak district in Logar, a tribal elder said:

Since the RiV ended, the situation has remained calm… There has only been one incident. The Taleban attacked a convoy of the Afghan National Army [ANA] that was going to the district centre. So, there was fighting for almost half an hour. There was no information regarding the casualties. There has been no other incident from the Taleban, nor from the government. People are living in safety… The RiV has had a good impact. There has been no fighting, while before the RiV, the government and the Americans were launching raids in our area and the Taleban were responding. Now the area is secure, 95 per cent.

In Ghazni, a school principal from Jaghatu district reported that since the end of the RiV period, ‘nothing’ had happened:

There has been nothing from either side, neither the government, nor the Taleban. The area is safe and people can comfortably travel everywhere even in the areas under the control of the Taleban. Mobile phone coverage is good and working 24 hours a day… When the US and the Taleban signed the agreement and the RiV ended, I heard that Taleban activity had increased in other areas, but in Jaghatu nothing has happened. It is because the area is still cold and there is snow. I believe once the weather gets warm and the snow melts, the Taleban will carry out attacks in Jaghatu as well. 

A woman from the western part of Andar district in Ghazni province said they had been “experiencing calm and complete peace in the area.”

I live near the highway where there has always been fighting. There is a nearby government post near the Mullah Nuh Baba shrine – the Taleban fighters would always attack that security post. However, for the last two weeks, we have not seen any fighting in this area. Neither the Taleban fighters attack, nor is the government forces firing rockets towards our villages. In the past, we could hardly come out of our houses because there was always the threat of rockets landing on or near our house. We have been experiencing a real reduction of violence for the last two weeks. 

As to the reason behind the lack of attacks, she said, “I think the Taleban fighters are still being told not to attack the military post in our area. If they wanted to attack it, they could easily do so, but I think they have been told not to.” Whatever the explanation for the continuing calm, she said she was delighted: 

The people in my village, particularly the women, are very happy to live in a peaceful and calm situation. This is something new and unique for our village, to see people living without fighting. I hope this will lead to a permanent ceasefire. 

A local teacher from the same district of Ghazni, Andar, reported similar experiences and feelings: “No change has been seen since the reduction of violence week was over.”

We have not seen any resumption of violence in our district. There are four places where the government has a presence in military bases, but even there, the Taleban have not carried out attacks yet. We see a lot of Taleban moving around in the district and in the district town, but they have not fought against the government so far. 

He was also pondering the reason for the lack of Taleban attacks:

I think the Taleban are ready to fight, but they might have been told not to carry out attacks. It is possible that the Taleban are waiting for further steps to be taken in regard to the peace talks. This might be seen in the near future as well. If we do see more attacks from the Taleban side, it may mean that the Taleban’s demand for prisoner releases have not been met. Or, we may not know exactly. 

In both Ghazni and Logar, interviewees reported they were still able to use their mobiles 24 hours a day. The woman from Andar said: 

In the past, I couldn’t talk to my relatives when I wanted to. The reason was that the phone companies were allowed only to operate before midday. However, now the mobile phone companies are operating day and night. 

The teacher from Andar said that, for him, the full mobile coverage was the “most positive thing” to have happened: “The Taleban have allowed the technical engineers of the telephone companies to work on reactivating the telephone towers.” He was looking forward to a time when “people will be able to talk on the phone in every remote part of the district.”

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The west 

We interviewed five people from the west of Afghanistan, one in Badghis province, two in Ghor and two in Herat. Almost all reported a return to violence in the post-RiV week. 

In Badghis province, a journalist from Qala-ye Naw city said that “after the Taleban said they had reached an agreement with the Americans and the reduction in violence period was over, things went back to how they were.”

Attacks on government forces have resumed. I’m aware of two [specific] incidents: one or two commandos were killed and one or two others were injured by the Taleban in Bala Murghab district. A roadside bomb killed at least one child. There have been casualties on all sides: government forces, Taleban and civilians. The Taleban have launched attacks, and the government has been in defensive mode, responding to those attacks.

“Moreover,” he said, “the mobile phone has again stopped working at night.” He explained: 

Only [the government network] Salaam is available at night, and only in the centre of Qala-ye Naw. At the same time, movement has again become difficult. Security forces and government employees are again afraid of travelling between Qala-ye Naw and Herat.

In Ghor province, the situation was still largely calm, according to a civil society activist from the provincial capital Firuzkoh, “There was just one incident,” he said, “a roadside bomb explosion, since the end of the reduction in violence.” 

[The explosion] happened along the Dawlatyar to Murghab road and killed two civilians… It was carried out by the Taleban. Apart from the Taleban, there’s no other group in Ghor that fights the government. [Apart from that], there’s been no other incident. The Taleban are in their areas. The government is in its areas. The government has been strengthening its checkpoints. Not everybody can pass through Taleban areas, especially government people and those close to the government cannot. Now it’s winter and cold. Launching operations isn’t easy for either side.

However, he expressed concern over the uncertain future: 

People are very worried about what might happen if the weather warms up and there’s no peace between the government and the Taleban. At the same time, the Americans and the Taleban have reached a peace between themselves, and the foreigners want to get out. The Taleban may launch a bigger, more severe war to show their power and to take more areas under their rule. If things go that way, life will become hard for people. Last year, farmers couldn’t cultivate their lands; roads got closed because of fighting.

There’s a lot of confusion and concern. People are anxious about what might happen if the coming spring is another season of war. And if the Taleban come to terms with the government, what might happen? Now, add the Coronavirus to all these things. The other day, I was talking to a doctor in Firuzkoh and I told her that she needn’t worry because the Taleban do not interfere with health people. She told me she was concerned about losing her freedom if the Taleban come back with the same old ideas.

A real estate agent in Taiwara district, also in Ghor province, told AAN: “During the reduction in violence and since, there have been no operations, no attacks on checkpoints, no explosions.” However, he thought this was because “neither side can easily wage war at this time here.” His hopes though were not high: 

I’ve heard from the bazaar and the district police headquarters that there are reports that the Taleban have been meeting these days and nights. So there are concerns that they might be planning to start attacks as the weather warms. We are worried that the war might start again in 10, 20 or 30 days from now when the weather gets warm. No doubt, the government will also prepare to attack, or at least respond to the Taleban if they attack.

In neighbouring Herat province, an employee in the agriculture department from Obeh district said that, although the RiV had worked well there, since then, the situation had again deteriorated:

A few days ago, a shepherd was killed and his sheep were stolen by some men. The Taleban found those people one after another, some five or six in number, and killed them. Also, about a week ago, the Taleban attacked a government checkpoint in the district bazaar at night. It was around 9:00 pm. The government responded and the crossfire lasted for about an hour.

During the RiV week, after seven years, they had had “24-hour access to telecommunication service.” Now, he said, “The mobile network coverage has returned to how it used to be: again there is no access at night.” Movement, he said, had also become difficult:

The Taleban have set up their checkpoints again. My colleagues wanted to come and visit us and [see] the work we do here, but they couldn’t. They could only come and spend a couple of days in the neighbouring Pashtun Zarghun district, which they did. My colleagues and I here in Obeh also cancelled our plans to visit the work we do in Dara-ye Takht area in neighbouring Chesht-e Sharif district. The government has taken that area back from the Taleban after several years, but it’s still not safe to travel there.

A shopkeeper from Shindand district in Herat province said the situation there was “exactly like it was before the reduction in violence.”

There’s fighting every now and then. The Taleban have begun attacking government checkpoints, even around the district bazaar and the district police headquarters. It’s exactly like before. There is calm one night and fighting the next. The Taleban come and attack, and the government responds to them. In one instance I’m aware of, the government responded to the Taleban by firing mortars into areas where the Taleban were. Some mortars hit civilian houses. There were no casualties but some houses were destroyed. Someone I know there told me this. I’ve also heard that some three or four Taleban have been killed in the recent fighting.

As for mobile phones, he said the service had again worsened, but not to the level it was in the past: 

Before the reduction in violence period, the mobile phones were working from about 6 am to 9 am, only for some three hours. [Then] there was 24-hour access during the reduction in violence week. The day after the end of reduction in violence, the mobile phones began again to be restricted at night. Currently, the mobile phone is not working from 6 pm to 6 am the following day.

The south

In the south of the country, we interviewed five people – one person in Kandahar, one in Helmand and three in Zabul province. People in all three provinces reported renewed violence. A tribal elder Kandahar province told AAN:

When Mullah Abas Stanakzai [a member of the Taleban’s political office in Doha] told the media that fighting would continue with the Afghan government, the people became very afraid. Because they had seen fighting between Afghans in the past. When, on the second night after the reduction in violence, the Taleban carried out severe attacks on government security posts, the concern of people grew further. The government’s military resisted and fought with the Taleban. This fighting continued for three days and there were casualties on both sides. I myself saw Taleban and policemen killed in the fighting. The people were very concerned about fighting. There had been far less fighting before.

He said  he was “unhappy and concerned” by both the political and security situation in the country:

I think if the Taleban and the government do not reach a conclusion for peace, the fighting will increase because I have heard that the American troops are also leaving. So the Taleban will not be afraid of the government forces and will increase their attacks. My other concern, which is the concern of all people in the district, is that if Dr Abdullah and Dr Ghani do not reach a peaceful solution between them about the government, it may change into a dangerous situation. The Taleban will also take advantage of [these two men’s] differences and will attack this district, which will be very harmful to us.

A tailor from Nad Ali district of Helmand province was also disappointed. 

I was thinking the peace would be maintained and we would not have security problems in the future. But now many people, including me, do not even like to talk about peace. It seems that we will not have peace anymore. I think we hoped for the thing to happen which will never happen.

He said there was actually more violence in Nad Ali district now than before the RiV:

Before the reduction in violence, there were one or two attacks every two weeks and without casualties. But now, the attacks have increased and there are casualties on both sides. Just one day after the end of the reduction in violence, the Taleban attacked the security posts of the government forces. Currently, the fighting continues against the government security posts located between Marja and Nad Ali districts. I can hear the sounds of heavy and small weapons now, while I’m talking to you. I can also hear the bombardment in those areas. The Taleban started attacking the government forces after the end of the reduction in violence. On 5 March, a Taleb insurgent shot and killed a policeman in the Chanjir bazar of Nad Ali district; he was then arrested by civilians. On 7 March, a police vehicle drove over a land mine planted by the Taleban in Nad Ali city. Fortunately, the explosion caused no casualty.

By contrast, a farmer from Qalat in Zabul province said there has been no attacks from the Taleban in his area since the RiV period ended: 

In our area, no one has seen a single security-related incident. However, in areas near Qalat, people say there are sometimes small skirmishes, when the Taleban attack government security posts.

However, it seems that there was not a great deal violence before the RiV period either. The elder said: 

In our area, there had not been fighting even before the Taleban announced the reduction in violence. The reason was that there was too much snow when the Taleban announced the reduction in violence week… We did not have violence after the RiV week was over, either… Compared to last year, this year has been pretty calm in the area where I am living. Last year, the Taleban attacked the government security posts from time to time, but this year, we haven’t had attacks. 

In his opinion, there were two possible reasons behind the general reduction in violence in Qalat: 

First is the very cold weather in our area [which has made] most of the Taleban fighters return to Pakistan. If the war intensifies in our area, the majority of Taleban fighters may return from Pakistan. Second, it is also possible that the local Taleban fighters have been told not to carry out attacks in our area. There might be some sort of order from the leadership of the Taleban not to carry out attacks – although no one knows if the order has really been given to reduce the fighting in our area. 

The people, he said were waiting, “curiously,” for the future steps to be taken in the peace process.

The people are uncertain about what will happen, whether the government will release the prisoners or whether there will be intra-Afghan talks or not. People really hope that the prisoners will get released. Once this major issue is resolved, then things will get better. 

A daily labourer from Shinkai district of Zabul province said that there had been no fighting in his district “for almost the last four months” and neither had there been “fighting since the period of the reduction in violence.” He thought this was because the local Taleban were still in Pakistan. “I remember when they arrived last year, they started fighting within a few days,” he said. 

A humanitarian worker in another Zabul district, Mizan, said the situation there was actually worse than before the RiV period: 

Targeted killings are a serious threat these days and the intensity is even more than before the reduction in violence period. Government officials, members of pro-government organisations and the Afghan army are the specific targets. However, sometimes, people who have no ties to the government or army are also killed, either by mistake or through the negligence of the Taliban. 

In Qalat, our interviewee reported that the mobile network coverage had been good in Qalat all through the winter: “The Taleban allowed the phones to operate 24 hours a day because people faced health problems and they needed to inform other villagers via telephone.” However, after the RiV ended, the networks stopped being operational for 24 hours a day. In both Shinkai and Mizan districts, mobile phones were again restricted, post-RiV, to only working during daylight hours or some daylight hours. 

The north

In the north of the country, we interviewed two people: one from Takhar and one from Badakhshan. A journalist from Takhar said that, after the RiV period ended, the situation in the province had remained calm.

After the reduction of violence week, the Taleban fighters have not carried out any attack in almost all of the 16 districts of the province. The situation in Takhar province is calm. Compared to neighbouring Kunduz province, where there were some Taleban attacks, there have not been any major changes in Takhar. 

However, he said that temporary checkpoints had been set up by the Taleban on the Khanabad to Kunduz highway: 

In Kunduz, there are some areas between Khanabad and Kunduz city, where the Taleban come out to the roads and set up temporary checkpoints. They check the cars commuting between Kunduz and Takhar.… There are rumours that the Taleban have captured some people on the Kunduz to Takhar highway… Government officials also said that the Taleban were capturing people travelling between Takhar and Kunduz, but they could not give figures or details about [where it was happening]. 

He thought there might be a general Taleban plan not to carry out attacks: 

I think the Taleban fighters are pretty much in fighting mood, but if they are told by their leadership not to carry out attacks, they will not carry out attacks. I don’t think the local-level Taleban can make major decisions, particularly about reducing violence. Therefore, I think it is ordered by the leadership.  

The mobile coverage in Takhar was still available around the clock, he said. 

Since the Taleban announced that all telephone companies would be allowed to operate 24 hours, we have not seen any shortage in the work of telephone companies. In the past, only Salaam, which is a state-run company, was providing 24 hour coverage and in Taloqan city only. Now all the companies work 24 hours a day. The Taleban have not told any of them not to operate. Before the reduction in violence was announced, they were working only until 5:00 pm. 

In Badakhshan province, according to a doctor from Jurm district “the security situation went back to how it was before [the RiV].” 

There have been several attacks in different districts. Last Saturday, a day after the reduction in violence week, there were three explosions in Baharak and Kaj Dasht with several casualties. Just today, we witnessed another explosion which left several civilians and members of the government forces wounded. The situation is back to how it was before and there is news that the Taleban are preparing to attack some of the districts. 

Traveling around Badakhshan, he said, was not a problem so long as “you are an ordinary person with no ties to the government” 

However, if you are an employee of the government, be it a public service officer or a teacher, the threat is high. Also, if it is not the Taleban who attack the civilians on the roads, other assassin groups are also active in different districts of Badakhshan. They are a source of intimidation. Movement between the districts is in no way encouraged and is highly risky. 

As soon as the RiV period ended, he said, the 24 hours a day mobile coverage was lost in some districts, such as Warduj, Darwaz and part of Jurm, returning to the old 5:00 am to 5:00 pm schedule.

The east

We interviewed two people in the eastern provinces of Kunar and Nangrahar. They said that violence had flared up again in certain areas. In the capital of Kunar, Asadabad, a journalist told us:

[The provincial capital] Asadabad is safe and secure. However, the districts became insecure after the RiV ended. I do not have information about any specific case of violence [but] in most of the areas, there is fighting either between Daesh and the Taleban or between the government and the Taleban. Three days ago, the Taleban attacked Daesh in a village in Watapur district and burned their houses. 

She said that she, herself, could no longer travel to the districts now the RiV was over. A tribal elder from Achin district in Nangrahar province told us: 

 After the RiV was over, one incident took place. That was on Sunday, 8 March. A roadside mine exploded and killed two men from the Uprising Forces. It is not clear who planted the mine, but mostly it is the Taleban who do such things. Daesh can’t do it, as they are in the mountains. Except for this, no other incident has taken place. People live in comfort and safety. They are busy doing their work… We travel everywhere without fear. All the people in Achin can travel to other districts and villages and they face no problem. In the past, we could not travel to areas where there were Daesh or Taleban. We could not travel during the night either, but now, we do not have that problem. In areas such as mountainous places where there is Deash, we do not go. Daesh people do not come to our area and we do not go to theirs.

Both interviewees in the eastern region reported that the mobile phone networks were continuing to operate around the clock even after the end of the RiV.

Conclusion

The sharp drop in violent incidents during the RiV was clear-cut. What has happened since is less certain. The data is incomplete, both in terms of reported security incidents and from the interviews;  these can only ever be snapshots of some places in Afghanistan, and interviewees themselves can only tell us what they know. The picture across the country is certainly varied, but understanding what causes the variation is less straightforward. Many Taleban commanders may be, as one security observer thinks, “folding their arms and watching,” while others have returned to the fight immediately and with enthusiasm. Or, the variation may be to do with their orders, with the usual lulls and fluctuations in the war or the weather. As the Afghan year 1399 begins, a sign of how the final year of this century may unfold will come soon, as the Taleban leadership decides how to handle their annual ‘spring offensive’. 

Edited by Martine van Bijlert

Annex: the Questionnaire

1. What has happened in your district/area since the end of the reduction in violence?

2. If there has been violence, please tell us where, against whom, who launched, any casualties? 

3. If there has not been any violence or much less than normal: Why do you think there hasn’t been?

4. How is mobile phone coverage?

5. If travel had been difficult: are people comfortable travelling now?

6. How do you feel about these changes (if the situation in your area has changed)?

[1] ACLED’s database covers both political violence and protests in Afghanistan spanning from January 2017 to the present, with data published weekly. ACLED researchers review approximately 60 sources in English and Dari/Farsi for reports of ‘political violence’ in Afghanistan. Approximately three-fifths of the ACLED data comes from the Afghan Ministry of Defence and the Taleban Voice of Jihad. ACLED tries to have each event geo-referenced and when that is not possible, to geo-reference the district and province instead. For steps taken to avoid artificially increasing the number of reported fatalities and to ensure that fatality estimates are as accurate possible, see ACLED’s Methodology and Coding Decisions, which can be found here

[2] The US-Taleban understanding may have covered not just a general reduction of violence but also the exclusion of certain types of attack, for example, ‘high profile attacks’ in cities and attempts to capture territory, including district centres and provincial capitals. The Taleban attacks on ANSF checkposts in Helmand appeared to have been a clear breach of the understanding and therefore brought an immediate response from the US. It is possible that other types of incident were not specified, even though they very much affect the lives of civilians and feature in some of our interviews, for example, checkposts, abductions and targeted killings. Such incidents would also seem to be about the Taleban asserting their control of territory and populations. Such incidents may also, of course, have been the subject of ongoing Taleban-US communications after the RiV officially ended. 

Tags:

US-Taleban Deal RiV Taleban reduction in violence US-Taleban talks reduction of violence peace agreement

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