The United States is looking for a way out of Afghanistan, the country's political factions, however, seem incapable of pulling off a deal to end the decades-long war.
Kabul — When Gul Rasool hears about the ongoing peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, he becomes hopeful, and paradoxically, pessimistic, at the same time.
"Everyone in this country wants peace, but they should not play with our feelings. We've been waiting for a long time, and we sacrificed too much for it," he says while sitting in his wheelchair. Rasool knows what he is talking about. He has seen the rise and fall of many regimes.
Around twenty-five years ago, he was recruited by a local militia during Afghanistan's then civil war.
According to him, he fought for them "just for the money,"
"I had to feed my family, like many other men in this country," he told me.
The former militiaman remains paralyzed after he was injured fighting in the 1990s in the northeastern Afghan province of Kapisa.
Many Afghans feel the same.
More than a year ago, the United States and the Taliban signed the Doha Agreement: an agreement that paved the way for the withdrawal of the US military forces, and in theory, peace talks between Afghan factions.
Since then, however, the fighting hasn't ceased.
The insurgents only stopped attacking American targets, with whom they're now formally at peace with whilst continuing attacks on Afghan forces.
"It's ridiculous to talk about peace while average Afghans can't even move freely because of all the danger," says Sayed Shah, a medic from Baghlan province who recently travelled to Kabul to visit his family.
For years, his home province has remained one of the most dangerous hotspots in Afghanistan, with regular fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents on the main roads and elsewhere in the region.
From 1 January to 31 December 2020, the United Nations documented 8,820 civilian casualties (3,035 killed and 5,785 injured) throughout the country.
According to the UN, the Taliban continues to inflict the most civilian casualties in the conflict.
This has led some to believe that peace is still a pipe-dream, and that the Americans just want to get out from their "longest war."
"After the Taliban returned from Islamabad, they changed their behaviour," said Matin Bek, a member of the Afghan government's negotiation team participating in the talks with the Taliban in Qatar.
According to Bek, in an interview on an Afghan television channel and many other observers, the Taliban are still "under foreign influence" when it comes to decision making.
For decades, even before the American invasion and occupation in 2001, Pakistan and its security apparatus, mainly its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has been accused of being the insurgents' main backers. "They are not serious about these talks. They consider their fellow Afghans as enemies," Bek said.
No end in sight
Over the last few weeks and months, violence has flared up all over the country. Bombing attacks, mainly caused by so-called sticky bombs, have increased in Kabul and elsewhere.
Also, targeted assassinations against journalists, judges, political activists, and religious figures have increased.
On March 3rd, three female journalists were gunned down by the Islamic State, or Daesh, in the Afghan city of Jalalabad. Additionally, pro-government forces are also wreaking havoc.
Several nights ago, CIA-backed Afghan militias tied to the NDS, the Afghan intelligence service, raided a religious school in Khogyani district, Nangarhar province, and killed ten civilians.
"These forces are very brutal. They terrorised us for years," a local, who wished to remain anonymous, told me.
Although the CIA's future role in Afghanistan remains unresolved, and such operations will probably continue, the United States itself appears to be sceptical towards President Ashraf Ghani's and his government's role within the peace process.
In a highly anticipated letter to Ghani, US Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken warned that Afghanistan might face a Taliban onslaught alone if Ghani failed to take his role within the talks seriously.
"I must also make clear to you, Mr President, that as our policy process continues in Washington, the United States has not ruled out any option. We are considering the full withdrawal of our forces by May 1st, as we consider other options," the letter, which was leaked and firstly published by Tolo News, said.
Many observers believe that the letter will put pressure on Ghani's government while the Taliban will benefit from the situation.
According to Zakir Jalaly, a Kabul-based university lecturer and political analyst, things are more complicated.
"This letter is directed to both Ghani's government and the Taliban. There are demands from Ghani, but it also clearly hints that the Taliban have to agree. Both sides have not been capable of doing so," he told me.
Jalaly believes that the US withdrawal will take place if both sides are ready for a peaceful political transition. "Both sides have responsibilities, and they should take them seriously. The next few weeks will be crucial," he added.
However, the Taliban do not feel they were primarily addressed by Blinken's letter.
"This was written to Ghani's administration, not to us. We cannot say much about it, but peace negotiations will continue," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told TRT World.
At this moment, around 2,500 American troops remain in Afghanistan, according to the Doha Deal, due to withdraw from the country by May.