A peace deal between the United States and Taliban is becoming increasingly likely with a conclusion expected to be reached and signed upon by the end of the month. Will the peace deal take place? What does the deal involve?
“It is now a matter of days. We are optimistic that we may be able to sign the [peace] agreement latest by this month’s [January] end,” said Sohail Shaheen this week while speaking exclusively to Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper.
This is the second time that the two sides – Afghan Taliban and the United States have gotten this close to a peace agreement.
Last time around, it was the sudden withdrawal by President Donald Trump who ended the talks through Twitter. He blamed the Taliban for the fallout. Trump lambasted the insurgent group calling out their duplicitous behaviour of participating in peace negotiations on one hand while continuing with its hostilities on the other.
Trump’s withdrawal was prompted by the domestic rebuke he faced after the Taliban killed a US soldier in Afghanistan in a roadside bomb.
But within weeks, US Ambassador responsible for peace in Afghanistan Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was seen scurrying back and forth between Kabul, Doha and Islamabad. Without officially acknowledging it, he met Taliban leaders during these visits.
The meetings paved way for Trump to announce a reopening of talks with the Taliban during his maiden visit to the war-torn country. Flanked by the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Trump said the Taliban “wants to make a deal very badly.”
Negotiations resumed. Talks were picked where they had been left off in September, 2019. This time around, however, the American side was adamant on securing a ceasefire agreement from the Taliban as a condition for the deal.
After days of negotiations, Taliban’s top leaders agreed to a ten-day “reduction in violence”. Last week on Jan 16, a Taliban official speaking to a Pakistani newspaper said “there had been discussions for the past few weeks and after thorough deliberations, our decision-making body Rehbari Shura (leadership council) has agreed to a 10-day ceasefire with the US in Afghanistan.”
“For the Afghan government and its armed forces, our leadership has decided to reduce attacks.”
The official claimed the talks with the US have been completed. To sign the deal, the US had asked the Taliban to announce a ceasefire. But the Taliban only committed to a reduction in violence. But only for US troops. For Afghans, there would be no ceasefire.
The Taliban’s brazen attitude towards the domestic players has irked many. Especially Afghan leadership.
They say they are not satisfied with the way peace talks are being handled. President Ghani’s spokesperson said the Taliban should agree to a complete ceasefire and promises of reduction in violence are “not practical.”
“A ceasefire is the Afghan government’s plan for beginning peace negotiations, reduction of violence does not have an accurate meaning in legal and military terms, and it is not practical,” the spokesperson said.
“By ceasefire, we mean a ceasefire like the one established in the country two years ago, during the Eid days – it had a clear definition.”
Country’s Second Vice President Danish said even if the United States signs an agreement with the Taliban, it will not solve Afghanistan’s problems.
“The plan to reduce violence is vague and is a type of fleeing from peace, and it is deceiving the people and the international community, with such justifications from the Taliban or their supporters the US may be willing to sign the agreement, but this will not solve the problem of Afghans,” he shrugged.
Going one step forward, the country’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah “condemned” the way talks are being handled. “Peace is not one person’s monopoly, one person’s wish – but it is a collective desire, and the people of Afghanistan have the right to take a position regarding the peace process,” he said to a news agency.
Given Afghan leadership’s reservations on the peace deal, any agreement between the US and the Taliban is likely to face stiff resistance.
Afghans, however, will have to wait for their political leadership to hold talks and agree on terms for an intra-country peace agreement.