The past few days witnessed a temporary halt in the fighting between Afghan Security Forces and the Afghan Taliban. On 5th June 2018, President Ashraf Ghani announced that a ceasefire with the Taliban would be observed till the 18th of June. A few days later, on the 9th of June, the Taliban announced their own three-day Eid ceasefire. The Afghan public support for a ceasefire and peace talks between the Afghan Government and Taliban has been on an exponential rise. Owing to the temporary truce, this Eid was described as ‘the most peaceful Eid so far’.
Reportedly, Taliban fighters were allowed to enter Government controlled territories after laying down their arms at the security checkpoints. Pictures and videos of Afghan security personnel and members of the Afghan Taliban offering Eid prayers side by side, taking selfies together and exchanging warm greetings circulated on the media platforms.
This peaceful vision was marred by an attack on the 16th of June by IS forces in Nangarhar province, killing and injuring several people including the unarmed Taliban fighters. The second attack took place the following day, also in Jalalabad city (Nangarhar). The entrenchment of IS in Afghanistan continues to pose security problems.
Some Afghan voices also expressed skepticism over the impact of Government’s decision to allow Taliban forces to penetrate into Government controlled districts once the ceasefire ends. Former NDS chief Amarullah Saleh termed Ghani’s decision ‘a grave mistake’ and stated that the Afghan Security forces do not have a mechanism in place to mitigate a breach of the ceasefire. However, no breach of the ceasefire by the Taliban forces took place in this duration.
The temporary truce witnessed widespread support from segments of the Afghan society and external powers. It was seen as a critical step towards initiating concrete peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan Government. The Afghan Taliban and the Government continue to diverge on some prerequisite conditions for the peace talks. Taliban Forces see US as a key determinant in the Afghan arena and demand to engage in direct talks with the US. Whereas, the US and Afghan Government see this as an eclipsing of the Afghan Government’s legitimacy.
However, the recent times have seen a slight shift in US stance in regards to dialogue with Taliban – from its earlier enhanced focus on military action. Following Ghani’s ceasefire announcement US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, also announced US support for the peace initiative and declared a temporary ceasefire against Taliban forces by US and NATO troops. In early June, Mike Pompeo also stated that the US was encouraging direct talks between Taliban and Afghan government officials in order to end the long war.
More recently, General Nicholson also stated that the US may be able to successfully arrange direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan Government. The Deputy Assistant to Trump and Senior Director for Central Asia at the National Security Council, Lisa Curtis, recently stated that US cannot act on behalf of Afghan officials in peace talks with the Taliban, but they may participate in the talks.
Reportedly, the US has also asked Pakistan for its help in facilitating direct talks between the Afghan Taliban and the Government. Pakistan and US seem to witnessing a thaw, after months of strained ties. Mike Pompeo has also confirmed that Pakistan and US have resumed joint efforts for a peaceful resolution to the Afghan conflict. On 14th of June, US announced that it successfully targeted Mullah Fazlullah in a drone strike, a TTP terrorist who was highly wanted by Pakistani authorities.
Prior to these developments, the Pakistani COAS travelled to Afghanistan on the 12th of June for a day long visit, during which he met with Afghan President, Afghan CEO and General Nicholson. Pakistan has been making overtures to improve its ties with Afghanistan – both countries are also expected to diligently operationalise the agreed upon ‘Afghan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Stability’.
Pakistan also supported the Afghan Governments recent ceasefire initiative with the Afghan Taliban and urged them to explore political solutions for the Afghan debacle. The regional support for Afghan peace and stability through a political settlement has been on the rise. The recent 18th SCO summit’s platform was also utilised to reiterate commitments towards Afghan peace and stability by major regional powers. Reportedly, China also played a crucial role in influencing the Afghan Taliban to concede to Ghani’s Eid ceasefire offer.
On the 18th of June, despite Ghani’s offer to extend the ceasefire, the Taliban forces have reportedly turned down the offer and have declared an end to the ceasefire for now. Nonetheless, the recent happenings have revealed that a space for peace-making mechanisms for the Afghan conflict do exist. It is also imperative, that the recent thaw in Pakistan-US and Afghanistan ties is persevered and built upon. The countries must endure possibilities of spoiler events and explore feasible and mutually agreeable solutions for negotiations with the Afghan Taliban.