HERAT -- The second round of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have been overshadowed by an increase in violence in Afghanistan's western region, where the Taliban have carried out attacks.
In the first two weeks of January, the Taliban launched 135 attacks in the western region, most of which targeted provincial capitals and district centres, said Maj. Gen. Abdul Raof Arghandiwal, commander of the 207th Zafar Corps of the Afghan National Army.
On January 18, he said 17 of these attacks targeted Farah city and Qala-e-Naw city, Badghis Province.
The Taliban's recent attacks on the western part of Afghanistan is unprecedented in the western region, Arghandiwal said, noting that security forces successfully countered most of them, and inflicted heavy casualties on Taliban fighters.
'Taliban do not want peace'
"The Taliban and their supporters do not have any faith in peace," Qala-e-Naw resident Abdul Sami Qaderi said, pointing out that the violence "was not at the current level before the talks began".
"The government released thousands of Taliban fighters from prisons, and accepted all their [Taliban's] pre-requisites [conditions]," he said, but in exchange, the Taliban have committed more acts of violence, causing more bloodshed.
People had hoped the talks would usher in more calm, but they have failed to do so, creating a feeling of hopelessness about peace, he said.
"The Taliban's goal in participating in the peace process is to achieve power, it is not to bring about sustainable peace to Afghanistan," said Herat city resident Amir Muhammad Qasemi.
"On the one hand, the Taliban claim they make peace as their representatives are engaged in peace talks in Doha," he said. "On the other hand, their fighters are busy killing Afghans every day."
"I believe that the Taliban do not want peace," said Herat city resident Nisar Ahmad Maihanyar, adding that if the ongoing violence and bloodshed are not stopped, there will be no hope to achieve peace.
Violence in western region
The Taliban's recent spate of violence in the western region includes a January 16 attack in Ghorian that killed 12 members of the popular uprising group in the district.
Two January 15 attacks are among the recent acts of violence: a rocket attack on a residence in Kohsan district that killed one woman and injured 12 locals, and an attack on Qala-e-Naw city.
The Taliban also attacked the Pusht Rod district centre in Farah province on January 11, and Farah city on January 10.
On January 18, Herat governor Sayed Wahid Qatali said that over the last year, the Taliban have attempted to attack every single district centre in Herat province, but were defeated and incurred major casualties.
"The Taliban attacked Obe district centre two days ago, set fire to residents' stores and planted mines between civilians' homes and stores," he said.
"The Taliban also caused unrest on the Herat–Islam Qala highway, one of the country's [key] economic routes, but the security forces defeated them and returned security to the highway," Qatali said.
The Taliban launched heavy attacks on 11 district centres over the past month, but they withdrew because of heavy casualties, he added.
In early January, the Taliban launched 24 attacks on Farah city and the district centres of Anar Dara, Qala-e-Ka, Pusht Rod and Bala Buluk, Farah governor Gen. Taj Muhammad Jahid said.
In Farah, he said, 13 land mines planted by the Taliban exploded, killing and wounding security forces and civilians.
"Most of the Taliban attacks in recent days were on Farah city and the Farah–Herat highway, near areas in Bala Buluk district," he said.
The Taliban did not achieve anything through these attacks, he said, and were not able to capture even a small piece of land from the security forces.
The group tried many times in recent days to enter Qala-e-Naw by launching attacks on checkpoints in its outskirts but did not succeed, said Badghis governor Hesamuddin Shams.
On the night of January 15, he said, "the Taliban attacked security checkpoints outside Qala-e-Naw, but they were defeated", after launching a similar attack some days earlier that security forces repulsed.
Breaching peace agreement
The peace agreement between the Taliban and the United States has remained just ink on paper as it has been violated several times, said security analyst Muhammad Naeem Ghayour of Herat city.
"The Taliban have ceased their attacks on the US and NATO forces after the signing of the Taliban and US peace agreement, but they have begun their widespread war against the Afghan government and people," he said.
"They continue to target Afghans on a daily basis."
"The continuation of violence and fighting shows the Taliban do not want peace, and they try to grab power, capitalising on the peace process," said Nimroz provincial council member Nematullah Sediqi.
"Civilians see casualties and public projects get destroyed in the Taliban's acts of violence," Sediqi said. "The continuation of these violent incidents will severely hurt the peace talks."
"If the Taliban want to prove that they intend to make peace, they have to reduce violence and bloodshed," he added.
Top Afghan officials Saturday (January 23) welcomed US President Joe Biden administration's decision to review the US deal with the Taliban and focus on whether insurgents have reduced attacks in Afghanistan in accordance with the agreement.
President Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, spoke with his Afghan counterpart, Hamdullah Mohib, and "made clear the United States' intention to review" the deal, National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne stated on January 22.
Washington wants to check that the Taliban are "living up to [their] commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence in Afghanistan, and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and other stakeholders", she said.
Rift in Taliban leadership
With the recent spike in the Taliban's acts of violence, no one feels safe in Afghanistan, said Herat political analyst Abdul Qader Kamel.
"The Taliban try to strengthen their bargaining power by killing civilians," he said.
The Taliban are engaging in a dangerous strategy of assassinations and violence, which may permanently derail the peace process in Doha, he said.
"The Afghan people have lost their faith in the Taliban because they have broken their promises and increased violence," said Herat city civil society activist Jawad Ameed.
"The Taliban do not have a united leadership, and they are not able to take independent decisions," he said. "The Taliban's political team discusses peace and reconciliation, but their military branch is engaged in killing Afghans and destroying Afghanistan on a daily basis."