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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 14 New Delhi March 21, 2020

No Afghan Ceasefire

Tuesday 24 March 2020

by Harish Chandola

The US appears keen keen to reduce its military presence and forces in Afghanistan, if the government there manages to arrive at some understanding with the Taliban, fighting to establish an Islamic state in that country.

The prospect of peace in Afghanistan has become complex after the Taliban reprsen-tatives signed an agreement in Doha two months ago with President Ashraf Ghani’s government in the prsence of the US envoy, Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad, involved in the Afghan peace negotiations.

These negotiations have run into some problems. The Taliban is insisting that the Afghan Government should release all its fighters caught and held by it in the coming weeks. But Afghan President Ghani’s government has said that it would release them in batches of 500 a fortnight after they give a written guarntee that they would not return to the fighting if talks make no progress. The Taliban has rejected that offer.

America appears to be suggesting that it may reduce its troops in Afghanistan from 12,000 to 8600, and close its five bases there by the middle of July. American thinking on the subject is to reduce its troops and military strength in Afghanistan, following the reduction of violence in that country.

A peace agreement was signed on February 29 by the United States and Taliban, which had stated that up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners would be released before March 10, paving the way for talks between the Taliban and assorted Afghan leaders about the future of the country. But the deal did not state as to who will do the releasing. Most Taliban prisoners are in the hands of the government of President Ashraf Ghani, with which the Taliban had refused to negotiate on the ground that it was illegitimate and America-imposed. President Ghani has said that he had made no promise to release the Taliban prisoners. He had said earlier that he was prepared to release them in batches of 500, provided they give a written undertaking that they would not return to the fighting, if negotiations make no progress.

Meanwhile both sides have resumed shooting one another. They had observed a partial and successful seven-day ceasefire in the run-up to resumed fighting. American and Afghan officials had called that a significant reduction in violence and wanted that to continue. But the Taliban called it off and on March 3 when they attacked 13 government check-points in Helmand province. On the same day in Kunduz province at least 15 government soldiers were killed.

The following day after the US President, Donald Trumph, said that he had “a very good talk” with the Taliban chief negotiator, Abdul Ghani Baradar. US warplanes bombed a Taliban position in support of the Afghan troops.

Despite the US desire to withdraw from Afghanistan, it is not certain what developments would take place there and if the war there will come to an end.

Meanwhile a new situation has emerged in the country now. It now has two Presidents, following the September elections in Afghanistan. When the results were announced last month, the Electoral Commission had declared Ashraf Ghani as the President. But his rival, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, called the electoral results fraudulent and declared himself as the winner. Both were subsequently sworn in as President at two different ceremonies near Kabul.

This rivalry had occured during the last election as well. But then it was arranged that Dr Abdullah be called the chief executive, after his followers had fired rokets at Mr. Ghani’s ceremony near Kabul, without causing any damage. It is not clear what arrangement would be made now.

The author is a veteran journalist with wide knowledge of developments in West Asia and the Arab world.

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