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Afghanistan’s peace talks threatened by university attack

(US troops in Afghanistan, 2019. Courtesy: The National Guard.)

The Afghan Taliban denied responsibility for an attack on Kabul University earlier this month, as they called on the US to ensure that an agreement that sees American troops withdrawn from the country by netx year.

“The Islamic Emirate would like to stress to the new American president-elect and future administration that implementation of the agreement is the most reasonable and effective tool for ending the conflict between both our countries,” the group said in a statement on the results of the US presidential election.

The statement comes after at least 22 people were by gunmen who shot fire at Kabul University before provoking security forces into a gruesome, hours-long battle last week. Afghanistan’s Vice President Amrullah Salleh designated responsibility to the Taliban, but these claims were rejected and the armed group who condemned the attack.

The attack was claimed by the regional Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL, ISIS) group and was the second time in less than two weeks that an educational institution was targeted in the country’s capital.  At least 24 students were killed last month when ISIL fighters enacted a suicide bombing at an education centre in the capital last month.

The groups also claimed responsibility for a 2018 attack in front of Kabul University where dozens were killed.

The Islamic State group issued a message on the Telegram app on Tuesday, saying it targeted “the graduation of judges and investigators working for the apostate Afghan government”. The attack took place on the university’s eastern side, which houses its law and journalism faculties.

Hamid Obaidi, spokesman for the Ministry of Higher Education, told AFP the attack started when government officials were arriving for the opening of an Iranian book fair that was organized on campus which was being attended by several dignitaries at the time of the shooting. It is still unclear whether the book fair was targeted.

Mushtaq Rahim, a conflict, peace, and security specialist told Al Jazeera the incident is likely to negatively affect the peace talks that were already facing challenges. “Seeing these heinous attacks on civilians and civilian installations creates a negative mood among the public and the government will also have to take on a harsh approach to manage people’s expectations,” he said. Taliban negotiators have been meeting in Qatar to try and broker a peace deal that would result in the U.S. withdrawing its troops and ending America’s longest war.

Afghanistan is also likely to receive reduced pledges for aid from international donors who are gathering in Geneva next month because of uncertainty over the peace talks with the Taliban will progress. The United States is said to make large cuts to its yearly contribution of $800 million for civilian funding. Other NATO members like Britain and France were considering reducing pledges and Australia is planning to make cuts of up to 30%.

In an interview with CBS earlier this year, Biden had said the US bears “zero responsibility’’ if the Taliban came back to power US troops left the country. “Zero responsibility. The responsibility I have is to protect America’s national interest and not put our women and men in harm’s way … that’s what I’d do as president,” Biden stated.

See more from Al Jazeera here.

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