Taliban ceasefire hope for Afghans

An Afghan soldier escorts a Taliban militant, who was arrested by Afghan security forces, and then presented to the media, in Jalalabad, Afghanistan March 17, 2018.REUTERS/Parwiz

The Taliban’s announcement of a three-day ceasefire with the Afghan government is unprecedented. This is the first time ever that the insurgent group has called a truce. The truce is in response to the unilateral ceasefire announced for the Eid period by President Ashraf Ghani last week. The Afghan government has declared ceasefires several times in the past but these were never reciprocated by the Taliban. Its positive response to the government’s latest gesture is therefore historic and heartening. On February 28, the Afghan president had offered the Taliban unconditional talks and even promised them recognition as a legal political group if they participated in the peace process. The Taliban leadership rejected that offer and carried out a string of attacks marking the start of its annual spring offensive. Hence, when Ghani announced the ceasefire, few expected the Taliban to reciprocate positively. This is indeed a pleasant surprise.

Sceptics will dismiss the ceasefire as nothing much. Indeed, it is for a short period. Besides, while the government’s ceasefire applies only to the Taliban, the latter’s truce excludes the US forces that are operating in Afghanistan. Thus, Taliban attacks on US forces will continue as will those by the Islamic State group. While the Afghan people can expect some respite, they and their armed forces cannot afford to let down their guard. Still, this is a historic moment and provides reason for Afghanistan to celebrate.

The ceasefire provides the government and the Taliban a short pause before they return to the battlefield again. Ghani must extend the ceasefire and renew his call to the Taliban to participate in talks. The Taliban is a divided group and the government must draw on all its resources and expertise to win over sections that are tired of fighting. There are vested interests that will seek to derail the ceasefire. These interests, which include Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), have benefited from the war in Afghanistan. They have gained from the drugs and arms trade. The two sides should not allow themselves to fall prey to the machinations of these interests. The Taliban is said to have made major territorial gains in recent years and analysts say that this will make it reluctant to join the talks. However, it is time that the Taliban realised that it cannot expect to come to power through violence. Seventeen years of war and bloodshed has not enabled it to oust the government in Kabul. It should wake up to the fact that it can gain more by trading its guns for legitimacy and participation in the political process. The ceasefire is an opportunity, which the Taliban should grasp with both hands.

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