by Abdul Haleem
KABUL, Dec. 25 (Xinhua) -- The Afghan government like yesteryear has been faced with multiple challenges in 2016 above all the increasing security incidents and futile efforts to find negotiated settlement to the country's lingering crisis.
Prominent among different armed opposition groups, the hardliner Taliban has been fighting for over more than a decade to regain power and reinstate its fanatic religious reign in the war-stricken Afghanistan.
The ongoing militancy in Afghanistan has claimed countless lives including civilians, militants and security forces throughout the outgoing year.
According to a report of United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released in October, a total of 2,562 civilians had been killed from January 1 to Sept. 30, 2016 and 5,835 civilians sustained injuries in the ongoing militancy and conflicts in Afghanistan over the period.
The report attributed 61 percent of the casualties to the armed anti-government insurgents operating in Afghanistan.
PEACE TALKS WITH TALIBAN
Afghans from all walks of life including President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani have repeatedly expressed their hatred to the war and called upon the armed oppositions to give up fighting and join the national reconciliation process to rebuild the war-wrecked country.
"This country wants peace," President Ghani has time and again said.
To overcome the turbulent situation and bring an amicable end to the protracted conflict, the Afghan government parallel to fighting armed oppositions on battlegrounds has also been desperately striving in diplomatic fronts to bring Taliban and other armed outfits into political mainstream and integrate them back to society.
The Afghan government, however, has noted that it has no peace with al-Qaida and Islamic State group.
In efforts to achieve negotiated settlement, the government has reportedly held series of secret and informal talks with the Taliban militants in 2016 but all in fiasco.
The talks have hit snags as the Taliban group after confirmation of the death of the movement's founder Mullah Mohammad Omar in July 2015 has faced fragmentation and Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor who succeeded Mullah Omar in August last year described the talks as an "attempt to divide" Taliban and halted the process.
The peace process further suffered after the murder of Mansoor who was killed in a U.S. drone attack in May 21 along Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Mansoor's first lieutenant Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, an orthodox Sunni Muslim religious cleric who had served as the judge for Taliban hierarchy took charge of Taliban leadership on May 25 had utterly rejected the talks with the Afghan administration and instead pushed for war.
Nonetheless, in the absence of Taliban representative, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) composed of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States held meetings in Islamabad and Kabul in January and February respectively to bring Taliban into negotiating table but the armed outfit refused to join the process.
Taliban group in a statement on March 5 dismissed the (QCG) talks as "waste of time" stating, "Unless and until the foreign occupation of Afghanistan is over and the name of Taliban leaders deleted from the black list and Taliban detainees are freed" no talks would deliver.
Zabihullah Majahid who claims to speak for the Taliban outfit has also asserted that the root cause of conflict in Afghanistan is the presence of thousands of U.S.-led foreign forces and stressed for the total withdrawal of more than 13,000 troops with the majority of them Americans serving in the country within the framework of NATO-led Resolute Support mission.
The division within Taliban rank in the wake of Mullah Omar's death has complicated peace talks as Haibatullah Akhundzada, the leader of Taliban main faction, has denied the talks with the Afghan government and instead demanding direct talks with the United States.
Washington has rejected the offer and noted that the U.S. government supports an Afghan-led and Afghan owned peace process.
Moreover, Mullah Mohammad Rasoul, the leader of Taliban's breakaway faction, has adopted soft stance to talk with the government if foreign forces leave the country.
Amid informal and secret efforts for achieving peace, Taliban militants briefly captured Kunduz city, the capital of northern Kunduz province, in October 2016 but have failed to defend it or overrun any other major city.
PEACE AGREEMENT WITH HIZB-E-ISLAMI
The Afghan government, after a couple of years of formal and informal talks with the Hekmatyar-led Islamic party the Hizb-e-Islami, finally inked the peace agreement with the dissident group, the third major militant outfit after Taliban and Islamic State group in Afghanistan.
Although Hekmatyar who is known as "butcher of Kabul" among many Afghans for his major role in the factional fighting for the control of Kabul from 1992 to 1996 approved the deal with President Ghani on Sept. 29, has yet to return to the country.
" The government's efforts for restoring peace in the country has yet to deliver while 2016 is nearing to end," prominent analyst General (Rtd) Atiqullah Omarkhil told Xinhua.
Contrary to the Taliban group, Hekmatyar's party, according to the expert, is not a major fighting force and his joining to the peace process would have little impact on stabilizing security and won't encourage other militants to give up fighting.
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY'S SUPPORT TO AFGHAN PEACE PROCESS
The world community like yesteryear renewed its support to the Afghan government's peace efforts for achieving lasting peace through political process without any preconditions.
Delegates from more than 70 countries and 22 international agencies at Brussels conference on Afghanistan in a communique issued on Oct. 5 stated that "The only way to a durable end to the conflict in Afghanistan is through a lasting political settlement."
Part of the communique states "In order to reach a peace settlement, we remain fully committed to supporting an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process representing all Afghan citizens and their legitimate interests that preserves Afghanistan's unity, sovereignty, territorial integrity and equal rights of all Afghans under the Constitution of Afghanistan."
Backing the statement, a senior of the Afghan government-backed peace body the High Peace Council, Ismael Qasimyar said "We hope that our partners, allies and friends in international community support peace and stability in Afghanistan, because peace and stability in Afghanistan mean stabilities in the region and the world."