The intra-Afghan peace talks entered a crucial phase in Doha after making progress in two areas last week. First, the Taliban and the Afghan government reached consensus on the peace talks’ procedures. And, second, the formation of Afghanistan High Council for National Reconciliation Leadership Committee in Kabul.
After two years of struggles, the Taliban entered peace talks with the Afghan government. The intra-Afghan peace talks are ongoing behind closed doors and seek to end the four decades of conflict in Afghanistan. Particularly, the delegations have negotiated to set agenda items for the talks. According to the US-Taliban peace deal, the Taliban has declared a ceasefire with the US in Afghanistan — while the group has continuously been fighting the Afghan government that has resulted in the killings of civilians. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reports there were 5,939 civilian casualties from January to September this year.
The international community and the Afghans urge the Taliban to declare a ceasefire, and yet that group to date has been reluctant. It is vital to find the root causes of why the Taliban have refused to declare a ceasefire?
Here are four reasons:
First, the Taliban are losing their fighters. Under a ceasefire, the Taliban explore the big cities that they have never been to and are controlled by the government. In June 2018, the Taliban announced a first ever three-day ceasefire over Eid. Reportedly, thousands of Taliban fighters did not return to the battlefield after the truce. Most of the Taliban teenagers have been recruited from remote villages and have not been to the big cities. They are misinformed that the population in the cities are not allowed to practice Islam. The Taliban fears they would lose their fighters should they return to the cities and realize real Islam.
Second, a ceasefire fragments the Taliban. The political leaders in Qatar might want to declare a ceasefire but its military commanders on the battlefield are reluctant and insist on fighting to take over the country. Taliban’s political leaders in Qatar are easy to work with. Since the establishment of their office in Doha in 2013, the political leaders have learned that without the world, the movement can’t survive their regime post-US withdrawal. However, the group’s military commanders in Afghanistan strongly believe that they can win the war and can overthrow the Afghan government should the US withdraw according to the US-Taliban peace agreement inked in February 2020.
The Taliban are also doubtful whether the movement can enforce a ceasefire on all its commanders. Differences within the Taliban have been revealed recently during the peace talks with the US and the Afghan government. The Taliban declared a three-day ceasefire in May this year, and yet, despite the declaration, some elements within the group killed 14 Afghan army officers.
This was not the first of its kind. The Taliban had also announced the first-ever ceasefire in June 2018. Notwithstanding, some Taliban militants killed over 40 Afghan security forces across the country. Should the Taliban declare a ceasefire, some elements within the group would not obey. This will raise doubts within the international community, and the Afghans over the unity of the Taliban and that after any peace deal, that no other different flags would arise.
Recent attacks of the Islamic State in Kabul have already created doubts over the peace process. Afghans believe that should the Islamic State attacks continue, the peace deal with the Taliban would not bring lasting peace to the country. The Taliban assert that the group has eliminated the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Should the Taliban declare a ceasefire, it would be revealed in a post-Taliban deal, that the Islamic State could get stronger and peace with the Taliban would not bring lasting peace to the country.
Third, the Taliban feel that a ceasefire would take the group far from its goals. The Taliban have two main goals – the withdrawal of US forces and returning the Taliban to power. After the US-Taliban peace deal that the US will withdraw its forces from Afghanistan in 14 months, the Taliban jubilant and claimed that its movement had won the war. President Donald Trump also announced that he would withdraw all the US forces from Afghanistan.
As a result, the Taliban feel that they are close to achieving what they have been fighting for and will return an Islamic Emirate to the country. If the Taliban announce a ceasefire, the group argues that it would lose its heavy weapon, which is violence, and will not get closer to its goals.
Fourth, the Taliban will use the ceasefire as a playing card in intra-Afghan talks. Violence gives the Taliban the upper hand in negotiations. The group might agree to a truce should Kabul meet their heavy conditions in the negotiations: The release of their over 7,000 prisoners in Kabul and elimination of the current government, and the Taliban to take over the country and form an inclusive Islamic government with other Afghan politicians. The group also believes that should the Taliban agree to a truce, Kabul would continue governing the country and would not take the peace process seriously, said Shahabuddin Delawar, Taliban negotiator in Qatar in talks with the Afghan analysts in the US.
Violence is the only weapon the group has. Should they declare a ceasefire, the group has nothing to rely or fall back upon. The group has miscalculated by not declaring a ceasefire. Even if the Taliban take over the country and govern the Afghans it will never govern their minds and hearts. A lasting ceasefire is the first and foremost demand of all Afghans. Unless the Taliban declare a durable ceasefire, the group will face Afghans’ hatred.
*Hashim Wahdatyar is a political analyst based in Washington DC. He tweets @HashimWahdatyar