Cease-fire: Thorny task in fragile Afghan peace process

Stakes are high as fragile yet rejuvenated peace talks are likely to resume in Qatari capital Doha

Shadi Khan Saif – December 06, 2019

KABUL, Afghanistan (Anadolu) – The thorny issue of cease-fire is set to dominate the renewed talks between the U.S. and Taliban for the proposed peace deal in Afghanistan, analysts and officials said.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, is set to resume the pivotal peace talks with the Taliban in the Qatari capital Doha later this month.

The Afghanistan-born seasoned U.S. diplomat met with Afghan government representatives and other Afghan leaders in Kabul on Wednesday as part of his renewed shuttle diplomacy for peace.

Paradox of reduction in violence

According to the U.S. State Department, Khalilzad will rejoin talks with the Taliban to discuss steps that could lead to intra-Afghan negotiations and a peaceful settlement of the 18-year-long war, specifically “a reduction in violence that leads to a cease-fire.”

Meanwhile, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office insisted in a statement that cease-fire as well as dismantling of the Taliban’s bastions outside Afghanistan remain a “precondition” for the ultimate peace talks.

According to the statements, Ghani and Khalilzad, former university mates, “discussed matters related to cease-fire and the Taliban’s hideouts outside Afghanistan for achieving an agreement for sustainable peace.”

U.S. President Donald Trump also met his Afghan counterpart last week during former’s surprise Thanksgiving visit to American troops in Afghanistan, where he said his administration had resumed peace talks with the Taliban, claiming the insurgent group is willing to observe a cease-fire.

“The Taliban wants to make a deal and we’re meeting with them and we’re saying it has to be a cease-fire and they didn’t want to do a cease-fire and now they do want to do a cease-fire,” Trump said during a meeting with Ghani at Bagram Air Field.

“I believe it probably will work out that way, and we’ll see what happens,” he added.

In the 19th year of resilient insurgency, the Taliban have not acknowledged backtracking from their previous stance in these talks.

In a his latest tweet on Dec. 3, Suhail Shaheen, the group’s Qatar office spokesman, said deputy head of the Taliban Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar hosted the recently released three Haqqani Network affiliates in Doha, and discussed with them peaceful settlement of the conflict.

Last month, the fierce Haqqani Network members, part of the Taliban movement, were swapped with two abducted teachers of the American University of Afghanistan.

Kabul-based analyst, Khalel Safy, head of a peace studies organization, told Anadolu Agency, the Taliban are likely to push for resumption of talks with Khalilzad from the point it were concluded in September.

“They [The U.S. and Taliban] already held informal talks in Doha in recent weeks. As per the previous draft agreement, the Taliban had agreed on reduction in violence and to give a safe passage to the foreign troops in exchange for withdrawal of some 5,500 foreign troops. And, in the second phase, the Taliban had agreed to discuss cease-fire with the resumption of intra-Afghan dialogue. There are no apparent signs of a change for now”, he said.

Tair Zaland, a spokesman for the Ministry of Peace Affairs in Kabul, insisted the bastions of the Taliban insurgents outside Afghanistan would also be brought to the fore in these talks.

He told Anadolu Agency the Afghan government would lead the second phase of talks. “The intra-Afghan talks for peace would have no meaning if the Taliban continue to defy cease-fire and continue to killing fellow Afghans,” he added.

Significance of 2020

Khalilzad’s renewed efforts are seen as continuation of an identical marathon nine-month process that produced a draft peace deal. However, the deal was scraped by Trump in September, declaring the peace talks with the Taliban “dead” following an attack in Kabul which killed a dozen people, including a U.S. service member.

Following Trump’s move, the Taliban opened new battlefronts across the war-weary nation, as Afghan security forces — suffering casualties and desertions — struggle to beat back a revitalized insurgency.

On the likely prospects of an eventual peace deal, Nicholas Kay, the NATO senior civilian representative for Afghanistan, told a group of journalists on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in London that there is a “strong regional consensus and support” for the peace process in Afghanistan this time.

“In the year 2020 there is a best chance for progress for peace. But, we have to be realistic, peace after 20 years of war would need time, more violence and disappointments might be on the road to peace”, he warned.

Zaland also said the consensus among Afghans for peace is “unprecedented”.

“Unlike in the past many many years, there is an absolute consensus among Afghans that these peace talks are the only way out of the crisis,” he added.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has welcomed resumption of peace talks between the U.S. and Taliban.

“An inclusive peace and reconciliation process, involving all segments of the Afghan society, is the only practical way forward,” said a statement issued by Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday.

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