The International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a new report that the time has come for the warring sides in Afghanistan to reach an agreement and bring a swift end to the ongoing conflict in the country.
The report states that the ceasefire over Eid-ul-Fitr showed that the warring factions including the Afghan government, government forces and the Taliban are tired of the conflict.
“The Afghan government, international forces, and Taliban insurgents all observed a temporary ceasefire during the Eid al-Fitr holiday. The truce was unprecedented in Afghanistan’s long war, brought a remarkable decline in violence and prompted scenes of joy across the country, often involving government and Taliban forces celebrating together,” read the report.
According to the ICG, the preparations by the Afghan government for the resumption of unconditional talks and also the recent reports about the US’s intention to engage into direct talks with the Taliban would have positive implications towards ending the war in the country.
“The truce demonstrated that leaders on both sides exert significant control over their forces, which is important given that neither side had trusted their opponent’s cohesion. The festivities showed the enormous appetite among Afghans, including some combatants, for peace. Both these factors bode well for a future peace process,” the report says.
In the report, the ICG has called on the US to seek official and serious talks with the Taliban leadership including the regional actors.
The report adds: “The US should open a formal channel to the Taliban leadership. Washington could empower an envoy to speak directly with counterparts in the Taliban’s political office in Doha, as well as Kabul and regional capitals. The US also should explicitly put the withdrawal of US and other international forces on the table, including in public statements. It should, however, make clear that an agreement on the nature of and timeline for such a drawdown would be part of, or contingent upon, a settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government that is broadly acceptable in Afghan society.”
ICG has also called on the US to kept the option of US withdrawal from Afghanistan on the negotiation table.
“Foreign, especially the United States of America, European countries should have been facilitators in this respect, they should speed up the process of peace. The Afghan people must be involved in any peace talks including the Afghan government,” said MP Sayed Ali Kazemi.
Based on the report, the Eid truce has shown war-weary Afghans, including combatants, what peace might bring. It comes alongside other signs of movement, first President Ghani’s offer of unconditional talks with the Taliban and then signs that Washington is willing to speak directly to Taliban leaders and broach the troop withdrawal issue. Direct US-Taliban talks are no panacea. The Taliban may still reject engagement with Kabul, at least initially, and even if it accepts intra-Afghan talks, such talks would mark only the start of a long and difficult road toward a settlement amenable to all major Afghan factions and broader Afghan society. But the US speaking directly to the Taliban is the best bet for getting to those negotiations and kickstarting a long-overdue peace process.
“Any country and organization that intend to cooperate in the peace process under the leadership of the Afghans in a move to speed up the process of peace and the resumption of talks between the Afghan government and the armed Afghan Taliban, we welcome that move,” said Sayed Ehsan Tahiri, spokesman for the High Peace Council.
“There is a precedent. Behind-the-scenes contacts between US officials and Taliban representatives in the movement’s Doha office started in 2010, during President Barack Obama’s second term. They yielded some results, notably the May 2014 release of Bowe Bergdahl, a US soldier held hostage by the Taliban, in exchange for the release of five insurgent leaders from Guantanamo – thereby showing that the Doha team spoke for, and could deliver concessions on behalf of the movement’s leadership. But those talks failed to develop into a wider peace process, due in large part to core disagreements over the nature and format of talks. In 2016, a series of trilateral meetings took place among US and Afghan officials and Taliban representatives in Doha, though these broke down before making much progress, largely for the same reasons. Informal contacts at various levels reportedly continue, but not in a structured manner or with the objective of ending the war,” according to the report.
What does the Afghan public say?
“If the Taliban are Muslims and Afghans, they must end the war,” said one resident in Kabul.
“The entire people of Afghanistan are tired of war. Taliban are also Afghan and brothers,” said another resident.
The ICG also suggests: “To address the legitimate concerns of the Afghan government and its domestic allies, the US should convey to the Taliban and the Afghan public that any understanding on a troop drawdown could only take place as part of an agreement between the Taliban and the government, or once such a deal is in place. In any case, as long as the war persists, so, too, will safe havens and opportunities for transnational militants.”
Click here for ICG's full report.