There is both good news and bad news from Afghanistan. The good news is that the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan are inching toward a modicum of understanding and appear genuine in working toward peace. One sign of this was the June 15 telephone call from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to Pakistani leaders, both military and civilian, confirming the death of the notorious terrorist Fazlullah. He was head of the terrorist outfit, Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), that was responsible for some of the most gruesome terrorist acts in the country. He was sheltering right under the noses of US-NATO forces in Afghanistan’s Kunar province since 2009. His elimination may have resulted from intelligence information provided by Pakistan, something the US and Afghan forces had refused to act upon previously.
The bad news is that the three-day ceasefire agreed between the Taliban and Afghan government forces for ‘Id al-Fitr was shattered almost immediately. On June 16, a suicide bomber belonging to the terrorist group ISIS killed 36 people including members of the Taliban on the outskirts of Jalalabad. The following day, 14 more people were killed in another suicide bombing in the same area.
This prompted the Taliban to order their fighters not to gather near security forces to avoid any casualties, especially of civilians. It was the first formal ceasefire since the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan and covered the entire country.
Anxious to keep the momentum, President Ghani announced extension of the ceasefire for another nine days but the Taliban rejected it. The Taliban had insisted American-NATO forces and ISIS were not included in the initial three-day ceasefire.
The Afghan government is desperate for a ceasefire aware that its forces are no match for the Taliban fighters who control nearly 60% of territory and hold sway in another 30%. It is for this reason that Ghani needs Pakistan’s help in hopes that Islamabad can persuade the Taliban to negotiate. For their part, the Taliban have made clear that they would only negotiate with the Americans whom they consider to be the real decision-makers in Afghanistan.
In order to sweeten the offer, Ghani announced the release of 46 Taliban prisoners and promised to release more hoping this would entice the Taliban to the negotiating table. The EU endorsed the ceasefire call and NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan as well as US Forces vowed to respect Ghani’s announcement. Such statements, however, have failed to impress the Taliban. They insist they will only negotiate with the US and want a timetable for complete withdrawal of foreign forces failing which the fighting will continue.
The Americans appear unwilling to abide by this demand. They have strategic, economic, and military reasons for staying. Given this scenario, it is unrealistic to expect peace in Afghanistan any time soon. The Afghans are fed up of war; they have suffered 40 years of bloodshed and lost millions of people. Despite mass poverty, they want nothing but peace in their lives. Unfortunately, the Americans are not prepared to let them live in peace.
This is a point the Taliban understand well, hence their determination to get rid of the Americans regardless of the price and how long it takes.