After the Afghan Taliban announced they will observe a seven- to 10-day cease-fire with U.S troops and commit to reduction in violence against Afghan security forces, Afghan officials call the Taliban offer "ambiguous," and push for a complete cease-fire as a way forward for peace talks.
Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesperson for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, told reporters in Kabul that the Taliban’s commitment to anything short of a full cease-fire would not produce the desired outcome.
“If the Taliban do not agree to a cease-fire, which is the demand of the Afghan people, we cannot put an end to war in Afghanistan, and we would not achieve the desired results,” Sediqqi said.
He specifically took issue with the “reduction of violence” term used by the Taliban, charging the Afghan government has not changed its demand of a complete cease-fire, which is “the most important and fundamental demand of the people of Afghanistan."
“Does it mean that not 10 but five people will lose their lives? Or it means that there won’t be 10 attacks but five daily?” Sediqqi said.
He said Presidents Donald Trump and Ghani are on the same page regarding a cease-fire, and the issue was broadly discussed during Trump’s visit to Afghanistan in November.
Abdul Subhan Misbah, deputy head of Afghanistan Lawyers Union, told VOA the term “reduction in violence” has no place in Afghanistan’s constitution, and it is rather a political term.
“According to the constitution of Afghanistan, violence or any other criminal activity is a crime, and whoever commits a crime must be prosecuted. And the reduction in violence is not a legal but a political term,” he said.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, is in Qatar’s capital, Doha, holding direct talks with Taliban representatives aimed at reaching an agreement with the insurgent group to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan, which has claimed the lives of more than 2,400 U.S. service members and cost Washington nearly $1 trillion.
By the fall 2019, the U.S. and Taliban had held nine rounds of direct talks in Doha, with both sides appearing closer than at any time in the past 18 years to striking a deal that would have brought an end to the conflict in Afghanistan. President Trump, however, called off the talks in September after the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack that killed a U.S. soldier in the country.
The deal at the time revolved around four key issues negotiated by both sides for almost a year, including a guarantee by the Taliban insurgents that foreign militants would not be allowed to use Afghanistan as a safe haven to launch terror attacks outside the country, the complete withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan, the beginning of an intra-Afghan dialogue, and a permanent cease-fire in the country.
Direct talks between the U.S. and the Taliban resumed following Trump’s surprise visit to Afghanistan in November, where, alongside Afghan President Ghani, Trump said the Taliban were ready for 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 Airfield, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan.
“I believe it probably will work out that way, and we'll see what happens,” Trump added.
After the deal
Taliban sources with ties to the Taliban leadership told Reuters last week that the insurgent group would implement a 10-day cease-fire with the U.S., and reduce violence against the Afghan government once a deal is signed by both sides in Doha. This marked the first time the insurgent group said it would commit to a cease-fire.
“The U.S. wanted us to announce a cease-fire during the peace talks, which we had rejected. Our shura (council) has agreed to a cease-fire the day the peace accord is signed,” a senior Taliban commander told Reuters.
The commander added that following the agreement with the U.S., the militant group could meet with the Afghan government in Germany. The group has so far refused to talk to the Afghan government, calling it a U.S. puppet regime.
Afghan officials fear a U.S.-Taliban peace deal may not bring peace to the country if the Afghan government is not driving the talks with the insurgent group.
“As long as there is no consensus on how to begin and proceed intra-Afghan talks, we cannot get into the second phase and reach peace,” Abdul Qayyum Sajjadi, a member of the Afghan Parliament, told VOA.
Abdulzaher Salangi, another member of the Afghan parliament, said more pressure is needed on the insurgent group.
“It is important that countries involved in the military and politics of Afghanistan, particularly the U.S., to cut the resources of Taliban,” Salangi told VOA.
The Taliban insist it would talk to the Afghan government as one of the groups among other factions in the country not as a government. The Afghan government, however, insists that it would enter the so-called intra-Afghan dialogue with the insurgents as the legitimate government elected by the Afghan people.
The Afghan government, however, insists that it would enter the so-called intra-Afghan dialogue with the insurgents as the legitimate government elected by the Afghan people.
The news of a potential cease-fire with the Taliban and subsequent intra-Afghan dialogue comes amid an ongoing political struggle between Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who both shared power in the contested presidential elections of 2014 and established the National Unity Government (NUG) following months of political crisis that took the country almost to the brink of a civil war.
The two rivals are again fighting over who won the country’s presidential elections held in September 2019 after being postponed several times amid security threats and lack of preparedness by the country’s election commission.
A preliminary result announced in December, after months of delay, declared Ghani the winner. His rival, Abdullah, claims fraud in the counting process. The final results have yet to be announced by the country’s election commission.
Why no cease-fire?
Some former Taliban officials charge the group cannot take the risk of announcing a complete cease-fire, as it would lead to divisions in its ranks. They said reorganizing fighters afterwards, in the event the talks do not achieve the desired objective, would become difficult as well.
“The desired goals gravitated within the resistance core against Americans would be eradicated by cease-fire, and the existing leverage would be eliminated,”Jalaluddin Shinwari, former deputy minister of justice during Taliban regime, told VOA.
Malawi Jalaluddin Haqqani, the regime’s former attorney general, echoed Shinwari’s concerns and charged that a cease-fire would disperse the Taliban fighters and undermine the political goals of the group.
“The desired goals that are there to stand and fight against American military would be lost," Haqqani said.
VOA’s Haseeb Maudoodi from Kabul and Mehdi Jedinia from Washington contributed to this story. Some materials used in this story came from Reuters.