In a latest development, the Taliban’s ruling council agreed to a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan, providing a window in which a peace agreement with the United States can be signed, officials from the insurgent group said. Experts believe that several developments during the past some months indicate that both sides intend to sign a deal in near future to end war.
President Trump has maintained that he is committed to call back American troops. Some welcomed the move, warning that President Trump’s repeatedly stated desire to cut costs and bring the roughly 12,000 US troops home risked handing Afghanistan back to the Taliban – leaving stranded those who had struggled to improve women’s rights, create a free press, and build a nascent democracy.
Although fighting resumed immediately afterwards, it was a brief opportunity for both sides to see their enemies in a new light – as fellow countrymen rather than adversaries
A cease-fire had been demanded by Washington before any peace agreement could be signed. A peace deal would allow the U.S. to bring home its troops from Afghanistan and end its 18-year military engagement there, America’s longest.
The U.S. wants any deal to include a promise from the Taliban that Afghanistan would not be used as a base by terrorist groups. The U.S. currently has an estimated 12,000 troops in Afghanistan.
Four members of the Taliban negotiating team met for a week with the ruling council before they agreed on the brief cease-fire. The negotiating team returned Sunday to Qatar where the Taliban maintain their political office and where U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been holding peace talks with the religious militia since September, 2018.
Talks were suspended in September when both sides seemed on the verge of signing a peace pact. However, a surge in violence in the capital Kabul killed a U.S. soldier, prompting President Donald Trump to declare the deal “dead.” Talks resumed after Trump made a surprise visit to Afghanistan at the end of November announcing the Taliban were ready to talk and agree to a reduction in violence.
Khalilzad returned to Doha at the beginning of December. It was then that he proposed a temporary halt to hostilities to pave the way to an agreement being signed, according to Taliban officials.
Taliban officials familiar with the negotiations spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media outlets. A key pillar of the agreement, which the U.S. and Taliban have been hammering out for more than a year, is direct negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the conflict.
The Taliban say the ruling council has agreed to a temporary cease-fire nationwide, without saying when it would begin. https://t.co/KnO9RTCYgw
— WQAD (@wqad) December 30, 2019
In Afghanistan, the bloodshed continues. According to the United Nations, more than 2,500 civilians were killed in the first nine months of this year. Many say they feel caught in the middle of the conflict.
It is worth noting that the peace process was kick-started by two major developments in the summer of 2018. The first was an unprecedented ceasefire during the Muslim festival of Eid ul Fitr. Taliban fighters streamed into cities, savouring ice cream and posing for selfies with members of the security forces.
Although fighting resumed immediately afterwards, it was a brief opportunity for both sides to see their enemies in a new light – as fellow countrymen rather than adversaries.
The other was the decision by the US to drop its condition that the Taliban must first negotiate with the Afghan government, rather than American officials. The Taliban had consistently resisted this, dismissing the “Kabul administration”, as they describe them, as “puppets”.
Kai Eide, a former UN special envoy to Afghanistan, says that the change in US policy was a “breakthrough”. It led to a series of rounds of discussions between the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Taliban in Doha, where the group’s political office is based.