Taliban walk as they celebrate ceasefire in Ghanikhel district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, June 16, 2018. (Photo: CGTN/Reuters)
Eighteen years on, the crisis in Afghanistan is far from over. To understand the complex political and security apparatus, let's first look at who controls what in the country.
According to a report by the US government's Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), as of October 2018, the Afghan government controls around 54 percent of the total Afghan districts, the Taliban holds just above 12 percent, and the remaining 34 percent area is contested, which means the country is neither fully controlled by the government nor by the Taliban. According to a New York Times report, military analysts call the US data misleading and assert that the Taliban controls or contests 61 percent of the total districts.
Apart from these, ISIL has also expanded its reach. ISIL's Afghanistan affiliate refers to itself as "Khorasan Province," and is believed to be present in at least four provinces: Nangarhar, Nuristan, Kunar and Laghman. From over 100 fighters up until a few years ago, the group now has thousands of them. Al Qaeda and its affiliates also maintain a significant presence in at least eight provinces in the country.
And this is just one part of the problem. There are multiple tribal groups, headed by numerous local leaders, who hold sway in many remote parts of the country. The "Loya Jirga," which is a grand assembly of tribal elders, also exerts huge influence over Afghan politics. Though it has a consultative function, many consider it to be superior to even the Afghan Parliament. Taliban also has many splinter groups which operate independently.
This contradiction within groups repeatedly comes to the fore in Afghanistan. For example, as Taliban representatives sat down for talks with the Afghan government delegation on Sunday, its fighters attacked a government intelligence office in the city of Ghazni, killing at least 14 people.
Just last week, more than 40 people were killed in another Taliban attack in the capital Kabul, prompting many Afghans to question the rationale of the peace talks.
According to a UN report, 2018 saw the highest number of civilians killed since the beginning of the war, an 11 percent jump from 2017, to almost 4,000 civilian casualties.
In the past five years, more than 20,000 civilians and 45,000 Afghan security forces have been killed in the violence. And even after 18 long years, peace remains a distant dream.