On the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, the Taliban declared a three-day ceasefire. The Afghanistan government, welcomed this and in good faith announced the release of 2,000 Taliban prisoners. 710 prisoners have been released so far. The total number of Taliban released in this way is 2700. The Taliban also released 73 government prisoners during Eid.
An agreement reached between the United States and the Taliban in February stipulated that the Afghan government would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners before inter-Afghan talks begin. But Ashraf Ghani is not ready to accept this because the Afghan government is not a direct party in these talks and this is not acceptable to Ashraf Ghani at any cost. The Ghani government has had trouble with the Taliban-US talks from the beginning, as they and the entire Afghan elite with them see their future as bleak. These are the people who have nothing to do with Afghanistan and its poor people. These are all US, UK, and Canadian nationality holders. They are here today, they will go abroad tomorrow, so these are the obstacles in the way of negotiations.
Now the most important question here is if there is a complete ceasefire, will the Taliban field commanders and fighters be willing to accept it? At the grassroots level, if we talk to a Taliban, they want the United States not to leave the country. According to them, if American troops leave Afghanistan, who will they fight with? The main reason why the Taliban is not ready for a long or full ceasefire is that the Taliban leadership cannot keep its fighters on the field for long without fighting.
The US-Taliban peace deal has been struck for two main reasons. The first is to secure the return of US troops from Afghanistan and not to be attacked by the Taliban on their military convoys. Second, let the situation of the nineties not arise in Afghanistan. The Soviet Union left Afghanistan as it was, after which civil war broke out. And then in the Taliban era, anti-American organizations like Al Qaeda found a place, which resulted in 9/11. That is why the United States wants a setup in Afghanistan that is not anti-American.
President Trump wants all troop withdrawals before the election so he can cash this achievement in the coming elections. According to him, the United States should not spend billions of dollars on its troops in Afghanistan. There is a tussle between Trump and the Defense Establishment at the moment because the Pentagon is not happy with the quick withdrawal of troops. According to the Pentagon, doing so would give the Taliban a psychological advantage that is not acceptable to them. And Secondly, the White House cannot guarantee that Afghanistan’s territory will not be used against the United States again.
Let us now turn to the internal situation in Afghanistan. Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah both claimed to be elected as Afghan leaders after the disputed election. And in April 2020 both held swearing-in ceremonies and announced parallel governments.
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The United States was unhappy with his move. US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad tried hard to reconcile between the two, but they refused. Then, in March, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Afghanistan. He also tried to persuade the two leaders, but they too failed. After failing to negotiate with Afghan leaders, Pompeo announced one billion dollars cut in aid to Afghanistan. A statement from the State Department said the United States was “deeply saddened” that Afghan leaders Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah had failed to reach a consensus on forming a government in Kabul. According to Mike Pompeo, their failure not only damaged US-Afghan relations but also disgraced Afghans, Americans, and allies who have made physical and financial sacrifices for Afghanistan.
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The Afghan leaders reconsidered after the announcement. The two leaders reached an agreement soon enough. Under the agreement, Ashraf Ghani will remain the country’s president, while both sides will elect their ministers in equal numbers, and with that, Abdullah Abdullah will lead peace talks with the Taliban.
The real point here is that Abdullah Abdullah, a Tajik, created the whole drama because non-Pashtuns were not given any special representation in negotiations with the Taliban. According to him, all matters are being settled between the Pashtuns, because the Taliban are also Pashtuns and the majority of the negotiating team from the government is also Pashtuns. So don’t ignore non-Pashtuns.
The history of racism in Afghanistan is very old. When Khan Abdul Rehman Khan came to power in 1880, he first started subjugating non-Pashtuns. His time saw a massacre of a 100,000 non-pashtuns. From here, things got trickier for Afghanistan.
The real issue is who will rule Afghanistan after the United States leaves. Will Afghanistan go to another civil war? Can the current government control the internal issues of Afghanistan without the support of the US? Only time will tell.