Afghan security forces gather at the site of a powerful truck bomb attack a day after it detonated near a foreign compound in Kabul on January 15. Image Credit: AFP

Afghans harboured furtive hopes yesterday that talks between the United States and Taliban leaders could end decades of conflict, despite fears that a US withdrawal will unleash even more violence.

American negotiators and the Taliban said on Saturday the two sides had made substantial progress in the most recent round of talks.

Afghan civilians, who have paid a disproportionate price in casualties since the US invasion of 2001, were cautious in their hopes. “I don’t believe the Taliban will make peace,” Kabul resident Rajab Ali said. “But if we have peace it will be so great. There is nothing better than peace,” he added. In Kabul, Afghans watching from the sidelines said a deal between the Taliban and the government was vital to end the years of bloodshed.

Taliban hold upper hand

“It will never be stable if Taliban and the government keep fighting each other and killing Afghans,” Kabul resident Sharbatullah said. “They kill 45,000 of us, and then we are not allowed to talk to them?” wrote Facebook user Matiullah, referring to the number of Afghan security forces that have been killed since September 2014 according to President Ashraf Gani.

The Taliban already have the upper hand on the battlefield, where Afghan forces are taking what experts have described as “unsustainable” losses, and have shown no interest in sharing power with the current government. With the US expressing clear eagerness to end its longest war and the Taliban holding fast to their demand that international troops withdraw, many Afghans feared an escalation of violence. “Darker days awaits Afghanistan,” wrote Ashraf Sultani on Facebook. “Once the US is out, the Taliban will issue a fatwa for continuation of their war, and the country will plunge into another bloody civil war again.”