Afghan Peace Process Back On Track As Taliban Could Agree To Unilateral Ceasefire

Afghan Peace Process is back on track. The US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a bipartisan congressional visit to Afghanistan on Sunday. Pelosi and the delegation met with President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and Secretary of Defence – Mark Esper. 

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“Our delegation received briefings from Ambassador John Bass and other top diplomats on reconciliation efforts with the Taliban, which has been responsible for violent attacks in Afghanistan,” said Speaker Pelosi’s statement. “We also heard more about the still-pending status of results from the Afghanistan presidential election in September, which we all hope will be available soon.”

The delegation, in meetings with Ghani and Abdullah, discussed security issues and improving governance and economic development with Afghanistan.

“Our delegation emphasized the central importance of combating the corruption which endangers security and undermines the Afghan people’s ability to achieve a stable and prosperous future.  We underscored that the women of Afghanistan must be at the table for reconciliation talks,” the statement said.

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The Pelosi-led delegation met with Afghan civil society leaders and Afghan women and concluded: “While Afghan women have made some progress in some areas, more work is needed to ensure their security and durable economic and educational opportunities for women and girls in Afghanistan,” the statement said.

The delegation also travelled to Camp Morehead to meet with Resolute Support Mission troops, and Pelosi praised the courage of US troops and diplomats on the front lines.  The US has approximately 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of a training and advising mission, and to conduct counterterrorism operations against insurgents.

Earlier in August, the US chief negotiator and Afghan Taliban representatives met in Doha to finalise the Afghan Peace Deal, seeking an end to the 18-year long conflict.

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The two sides were scheduled to sign the deal in the first week of September, but the process hit a roadblock when Donald Trump cancelled the meeting with the Taliban over the killing of one US soldier.

What led to the collapse of year-long, painstaking talks was the refusal of the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire or reduce the level of violence in Afghanistan. The Trump administration wanted to insert the new clause that would have mentioned the Taliban committing to a ceasefire in the proposed deal.

The insurgent group refused to change the already agreed deal with Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghan reconciliation. The deadlock prevented the signing of the agreement, and Trump later declared the peace process as “dead”.

Earlier Pakistan hosted a direct meeting between the Afghan Taliban delegation led by Mullah Baradar and Ambassador Khalilzad. The two rounds of talks in Islamabad were part of efforts to bridge the gap between the two sides — particularly on the issue of the ceasefire.

A senior official with the knowledge of behind-the-scenes efforts has stated that Pakistan has been pressing the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire or at least give a commitment for reducing the level of violence.

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The official, who requested not to be named since he was not authorised to speak to the media on the subject, said in order to end the stalemate Pakistan had suggested the Taliban agree on an “unannounced ceasefire” if they had any problem in making their decision public at this stage.

The US side endorsed the idea and indicated resuming peace talks if the Taliban were ready to give the commitment for a ceasefire in private. The US feels that a ceasefire even unannounced can create an environment conducive for the resumption of talks to finalise the peace deal.

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The Taliban have so far not given any response to the proposal. But the two sides agreed to take some confidence-building measures before making progress on contentious issues.

The exchange of prisoners between the insurgent group and the US soon after the talks in Islamabad was part of those CBMs, added the official. The chances of revival of talks are boosted with the unannounced visit of US Defense Secretary Mark Esper to Afghanistan on Sunday.

“The aim is to still get a peace agreement at some point, a political agreement, that is the best way forward,” Esper told the reporters travelling with him.