Ceasing fire: on truce in Afghanistan

The Taliban’s announcement of a three-day ceasefire with Afghan government troops for Eid, two days after President Ashraf Ghani declared an unconditional week-long ceasefire, is a glimmer of hope for a breakthrough in the long-struggling peace process. This is the first time the Taliban has announced a ceasefire in the 17 years since it was removed from power in Kabul. Though it has not acknowledged the government ceasefire, the timing and the public declaration unmistakably point to the reciprocity of the decision. In the past, Mr. Ghani’s government had tried several times to reach out to the Taliban to find a breakthrough in the conflict. In 2015, when both sides were in an advanced stage of talks, it was revealed that the Taliban leader Mullah Omar had died years ago, upending the whole process. In February, Mr. Ghani had invited the Taliban to shun weapons and join peace talks in return for security assurances and passports to militants. But the group shunned the offer after days of uncertainty. The surprise ceasefire declaration during Ramzan is the latest gambit by Mr. Ghani. The war has long entered a stalemate, and something needs to give. The Taliban has made enormous military gains in recent years. It now controls vast swathes of rural, mountainous Afghanistan, while the government retains its grip on the more populated urban centres. The Taliban doesn’t seem to be in a position to capture power by overthrowing the government as long as the U.S. and its allies remain committed to the regime’s security. Equally, Afghan forces are unable to defeat or even check the Taliban’s momentum in rural areas.

The fact that the government and the Taliban finally accepted a limited ceasefire suggests that the appetite for a political solution is now stronger. But a three-day Taliban ceasefire will not necessarily set the scene for a more productive engagement. The Taliban has said that the truce is applicable only to the “domestic opposition”, which means it will continue to target foreign troops. Also, the announcement came immediately after several attacks over 24 hours left at least 50 security personnel dead, which shows how precarious the situation is. Even for talks to be initiated, there are serious bottlenecks — the Taliban insists that foreign troops be withdrawn, while the government demands that the group accept the Afghan constitution. Despite these challenges, the Taliban’s positive response is a small gesture which could be used by both sides to build confidence before moving to the next step. The U.S. could put pressure on the Taliban through Pakistan to bring them to the table. If not, the war will carry on, with neither side gaining a decisive edge and leaving millions of Afghans in unending misery.


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Printable version | May 8, 2021 6:23:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/ceasing-fire/article24130619.ece

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