The US government signed a substantial and unique deal with the Taliban on 29th February this year in the 19 year war’s history that would allow the full extraction of US troops from Afghanistan by Spring 2021. In the deal the Taliban, in return for the guarantee of America’s exit, would cease relations with international terrorist groups and progress into peace talks with the Afghan government, despite the government itself not being present at the talks.
Peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government have been labelled the second and most critical phase of the peace process, with a significant contingency to their success being progression in the relative exchange of prisoners. Of the agreed 5000 Taliban soldiers imprisoned by Kabul to be released, 2000 have been released along with the release of 240 government soldiers by the Taliban from the promised 1000. Statistically, these seem positive developments, especially as their release comes in response to the Taliban- instigated ceasefire over the recent Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr. This ceasefire was also received as a positive relief from delays in prisoner exchanges between the two sides.
Recent attacks, such as the horrific attack on a maternity ward in Kabul on 12th May were not condoned by the Taliban but speak of the terror-permitting ‘enabling environment’ Taliban rule induces, according to Kate Clark writing for The Guardian. Although the prisoner exchange shows cooperation between the government and Taliban, this is no consistency. Just recently, a Taliban truck bomb in an Eastern Afghan city responded to President Ashraf Ghani’s escalation to a military “active defensive” stance. Indeed, before this ceasefire Taliban attacks had intensified, as The Economist reports that since the US-deal a further 900 government troops had died.
Thus, the ceasefire does seem quite an aberration to the recent trend of domestic relations. If seen as a wholly positive development, they suggest that the second phase of the process, domestic cooperation and negotiation, is beginning to gather momentum, aided by the now more cohesive government front following the affirmation of President Ghani in his role with political rival Abdullah Abdullah following last September’s election.
However, this ceasefire seems a more constructed pause, in which the Taliban’s supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada declared amnesty to those who renounced the Afghan government. This seems a continuance of the trend before the apparent relief of the ceasefire. Previously to this the Taliban had denied all requested ceasefires, asserting that any suggestion of peace is almost wholly dictated by the Taliban. While this grim picture seems to narrate the current situation, the Afghanistan Analysts Network has reported civilians experiencing peace in some areas south of Kabul, but significant bloodshed in others. Kate Clark has shed doubt on any serious intention on behalf of the Taliban to talk to the Afghan government. Given their apparent power to dictate the national situation, it seems the opportunity to show power is their most provocative call to any guise of peace.
Afghanistan’s National Security Council’s Spokesman Javid Faisal has said that the future of talks “depends on the Taliban’s next move,” but another way to view the situation is that the outcome of the war depends on how America’s absence narrates the situation. Clark has said that America seems to have no ‘plan B’ if the Taliban do not comply and the void America leaves could be prove to be what Mujib Mashal in the New York Times has called, the Taliban’s ‘most fervent desire.’ Trump has also been accused of using apparent US-negotiated peace as a prop in his presidential campaign.
With no change in the Taliban’s oppressive ideology and consistent calls for military conscription in anti-Western sentiment, it appears that America’s exit, sadly, will not terminate a war that has always been domestic.
Image: Anuradha Sengupta via Flickr