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Saturday 29 April 2017

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Bullet holes are seen on the wall of a mosque at an A mosque inside the Afghan military base where Taliban assailants killed scores of soldiers on April 21.

The repercussions of a Taliban massacre of more than 130 Afghan soldiers at an army base in northern Afghanistan last week are being felt widely.

The repercussions of a Taliban massacre of more than 130 Afghan soldiers at an army base in northern Afghanistan last week are being felt widely.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani moved swiftly to sack the top leadership of the Afghan security forces as his administration scrambles to deal with the fallout from the bloodbath in Mazar-e Sharif in which 10 Taliban attackers tricked their way into the 209th Corps headquarters, Camp Shaheen.

In the ensuing shooting spree and firefight that went on for hours on April 21, the militant killed scores of soldiers. Most were offering their Friday prayers at the base’s mosque. Some were killed as they ate lunch in a dining hall. The attack is considered one of the worst against Afghanistan’s army, which is mostly trained and funded by Kabul’s Western allies.

Amid rising fears and anger over the government’s failure to prevent the attack, the massacre looms large over the morale of an overstretched Afghan National Army fighting an expanding Taliban insurgency. Afghanistan’s 350,000 security forces are already struggling with high casualty rates, indiscipline, and corruption.

To analyze the fallout and consequences of the massacre, we turned to Michael Semple, a former senior EU and UN diplomat in Afghanistan who is now a visiting professor at Queen’s University Belfast. Luke Coffey, a former U.S. Army veteran and director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation think tank, joined our conversation from Washington. I chipped in from Prague, and as usual RFE/RL’s Washington-based media relations manager, Muhammad Tahir, stirred our conversation.

Listen to or download the Gandhara Podcast:

The views expressed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

FILE: Muhammad Naeem (L), a spokesman for the Taliban contact office in Doha.

Since their emergence in Afghanistan nearly a quarter-century ago, the Afghan people and the world at large have been perplexed by how to respond to the ragtag Taliban militia determined to rule the country as a hard-line Islamist regime.

Since their emergence in Afghanistan nearly a quarter-century ago, the Afghan people and the world at large have been perplexed by how to respond to the ragtag Taliban militia determined to rule the country as a hard-line Islamist regime.

The Taliban failed to moderate or normalize into a postwar legitimate Afghan government. Their relations with transnational militant networks such as Al-Qaeda, Pakistan’s numerous jihadist organizations, and Central Asian militants resulted in their regime being toppled by a U.S.-led military intervention after Al-Qaeda orchestrated the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington from its Afghanistan safe haven.

The demise of their regime in late 2001, however, didn’t end the Taliban movement. They soon re-emerged as an insurgency that sustained military operations by NATO troops for more than a decade.

Today, the Taliban control large swathes of the Afghan countryside, which they mostly overran after the departure of most NATO troops in late 2014. The insurgents, however, have failed to overrun major population centers and are nowhere close to toppling Afghanistan’s national unity government as long as Kabul receives substantial international aid and support.

The battlefield stalemate extends into the political sphere. Nearly a decade of diplomatic efforts to end the Afghan war through a negotiated solution between the Afghan government and the Taliban has yielded little. The two sides have only met once in direct talks.

The Afghan peace process is clouded by mutual suspicion, domestic political intrigue, efforts by warring parties to gain decisive battlefield advantage, and the not-so-covert efforts by Afghanistan’s neighbors to prevent a peaceful resolution.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s new administration is already grappling with one of the key questions his three predecessors have faced: What to do with the Afghan Taliban? His generals have already called for more U.S. boots on the ground in Afghanistan.

To discuss this question, RFE/RL Media Relations Manager and Gandhara Podcast host Muhammad Tahir turned to Bill Roggio and Eric Jones in Washington. Roggio is managing editor of the Long War Journal website while Eric Jones runs the Foreign Intrigue website.

Hekmatullah Azamy, a researcher at the Kabul-based Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies, shared insights about the Taliban perspective on war and peace in Afghanistan. Contributing from Prague, I argued that strengthening the Afghan state, regional cooperation, and reconciliation among all Afghans will provide the right solution for ending the Taliban insurgency.

Listen to or download the Gandhara Podcast:

The views expressed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

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