Escalation in violence threatens peace process, Khalilzad warns Taliban

By Salaam Times and AFP

Security personnel and residents gather at the site of a car bombing that targeted Afghan police headquarters in Firoz Koh, Ghor Province, on October 18. [AFP]

Security personnel and residents gather at the site of a car bombing that targeted Afghan police headquarters in Firoz Koh, Ghor Province, on October 18. [AFP]

KABUL -- US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad on Monday (October 19) slammed Afghanistan's "distressingly high" levels of bloodshed after a car bombing at a police headquarters killed at least 16 people and wounded scores more.

"Continued high levels of violence can threaten the peace process and the agreement and the core understanding that there is no military solution," Khalilzad said on Twitter.

"Violence today remains distressingly high in spite of the recent reaffirmation of the need for substantial reduction."

Khalilzad, who negotiated a February 29 deal with the Taliban to pull out US forces and start intra-Afghan peace talks, last week met with the Taliban after the militants launched an attack on Lashkargah, Helmand Province, forcing thousands to flee.

"All sides agreed to decrease attacks and strikes and reduce violence and casualties. Although violence in Helmand has decreased, violence overall in the country remains high," he said.

"The belief that says violence must escalate to win concessions at the negotiating table is very risky. Such an approach can unkhdermine the peace process and repeats past miscalculations," Khalilzad said.

Khalilzad's remarks come after a car bombing on Sunday (October 18) near police headquarters in Firoz Koh, Ghor Province, left 16 people dead and 154 wounded, local hospital director Mohammad Omar Lalzad told AFP.

Five children, nine women and 26 members of the security forces were among the wounded, he said.

Muhammad Arif Aaber, the spokesman for Ghor's governor, confirmed the toll.

No group has claimed responsibility, but local residents blamed the Taliban.

"The Taliban packed the vehicle with explosives and set them off, killing so many. We are in this trouble because of the Taliban, and may God punish them," said Ziba, 65, who lost his son in the attack.

Afghan citizens remain the victims of the continuing violence nationwide, said Hazrat Gul Raufi, a Ghor resident who was injured in the explosion.

"Why are the Taliban not leaving us alone? Why are they not stopping these killings?" he asked. "In this war, the Taliban and the government are not harmed, but instead it's civilians who are the victims."

"On one hand, people are dying of poverty and hunger, while on the another hand, the Taliban are massacring civilians," he added. "For God's sake, stop this war and make peace. We are tired of this war. We've had enough."

Defending Afghan forces

For their part, the Taliban in the meetings last week complained of alleged Afghan security operations and coalition strikes.

Under the February deal, the Taliban said they would not attack cities while the United States said it would refrain from assaults on the insurgents except to defend Afghan forces.

"We reject allegations of US violations by the Taliban. The Afghan people want peace. Full adherence to the US-Taliban Agreement & the US-Afghanistan Joint Declaration is critical to advancing the peace process," Morgan Ortagus, a spokesman for the US Department of State, said in a Twitter post on Sunday.

Coalition forces will continue to defend the Afghan forces against Taliban attacks, said US military spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett October 18.

"We categorically reject the Taliban's claim the United States has violated the US-Taliban Agreement. US airstrikes in Helmand and Farah have been and continue to be solely in defense of the ANDSF as they are being attacked by the Taliban," Leggett tweeted.

"These strikes are consistent with both the US-Taliban Agreement and the Joint Declaration between the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States," he said.

"The entire world has witnessed the Taliban's offensive operations in Helmand -- attacks which injured and displaced thousands of innocent Afghan civilians. We reiterate our call for ALL SIDES to reduce the violence to allow the political process to take hold," Leggett said.

[Omar from Herat contributed to this report.]

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America should end the process of intra-Afghan negotiations as soon as possible and put pressure on both sides to leave their personal demands and interests and to agree on making a joint governing system.