The Taliban, who have been stepping up deadly assaults against Afghan forces for weeks, surprised on Saturday May 23, 2020 by unilaterally declaring a cessation of fighting so that their fellow citizens could celebrate in peace and comfort Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims.
Taliban Prisoners Released
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani immediately accepted this offer and the Afghan government wants it to continue. On Sunday May 24, 2020 he launched a process to release up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners as a gesture of goodwill in response to the Taliban’s announcement of a ceasefire, according to his spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.
As such, the first 100 Taliban detainees were released on Monday May 25, 2020 and another 100 were initially to be released every day until the figure of 2,000 was reached, before a decision was made to release 900 on Tuesday May 26, 2020 alone.
These reciprocal releases of prisoners – up to 5,000 Taliban against 1,000 Afghan forces – are provided for in an agreement signed on February 29, 2020 in Doha between Washington and the Taliban, but not ratified by Kabul. Kabul had, before the ceasefire, released about 1,000 detainees, while the insurgents released about 300.
The Doha Agreement also provides for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan within 14 months, on condition that the insurgents respect security commitments and begin negotiations with the Afghan authorities on the country’s future.
America and Pakistan (another major regional player) want the inter-Afghan dialogue to start immediately after the release of the 2000 prisoners. But the Taliban still want their 5,000 prisoners to be released before (starting) any talks, warned one of the two Taliban sources.
The ceasefire, the first Taliban-initiated since an international coalition led by the United States ousted them from power in 2001, has been largely respected in the first two days, despite some skirmishes.
This is the second interruption of fighting in Afghanistan since 2001. The first, at the initiative of Ashraf Ghani, led to a three-day break in June 2018, already on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, and to astonishing scenes of fraternization between combatants from both sides.
The Taliban, also, respected a nine-day partial truce from February 22 to 2 March 2, 2020 on the occasion of the signing of the Doha Agreement.
The United States and the Taliban signed an historic agreement on Saturday February 29, 2020 in Doha, Qatar, which should lead to the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan within 14 months after 18 years – the longest US war – and the opening of peace negotiations with the Afghan government. It was signed after a week of “violence reduction” in Afghanistan, prior to the signing of the agreement.
The Doha Agreement must put an end to the longest war in the history of the United States. The invasion of Afghanistan, decided by George W. Bush following the attacks of September 11, 2001, had driven the Taliban from central power, but without ever succeeding in unifying the country. The United States spent more than 750 billion dollars (680 billion euros) on this war, from which nearly 2,000 GIs never returned.
The American Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, had confirmed on Saturday, shortly before the signing of the agreement, a gradual and immediate withdrawal of American troops. But the United States “will not hesitate to cancel the agreement” if the Taliban violate it, the American Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Doha. Negotiations between the Taliban and the Kabul government are scheduled to begin on March 10, 2020 Mike Pompeo said.
Shortly before the agreement was signed, the Taliban ordered the suspension of all military operations in Afghanistan. This is the second complete cessation of Taliban attacks since the conflict began in late 2001, following a three-day cease-fire in 2018.
Tired Of War
It is from this “never-ending war” that Donald Trump wants to get out, in order to “bring the guys home” and fulfill one of his campaign promises. Negotiations, secretly begun in July 2018 between the Americans and the Taliban, were on the verge of being concluded last September, before the American president cancelled, at the last moment, a planned signing at Camp David, near Washington.
Since then, he has strongly supported his special envoy for these negotiations, the former American ambassador to Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad. “We are on the brink of a historic opportunity for peace,” the head of US diplomacy said as the signing approached, while a Taliban leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, told the New York Times that “everyone” was “tired of war. “
Despite criticism from some observers that it concedes too much for too little, the Trump administration assures that the anti-terrorist guarantees provided by the insurgents respond to the primary reason for American intervention, the attacks of September 11. According to the United Nations (UN), between 32,000 and 60,000 Afghan civilians have been killed in the conflict.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres, through his spokesman, welcomed efforts to achieve a “lasting political settlement” in Afghanistan. “Today’s events in Doha and Kabul mark an important development in this regard,” Mr. Guterres’ spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said in a press release.
The U.N. chief expressed gratitude to Qatar for hosting the U.S.-Taliban talks. “The Secretary-General underscores the importance of continuing to reduce violence nationwide for the benefit of all Afghans,” Dujarric said. “He encourages continued efforts by all parties to create an environment conducive to intra-Afghan negotiations and a comprehensive peace process,” he added.
Guterres hoped that the “deep-seated aspirations of the Afghan people for peace” would be realized through an inclusive, Afghan-led process with the meaningful participation of women and youth. “The Secretary-General reaffirms the United Nations’ commitment to support the Afghan people and government,” he said. UN called for redoubled efforts to continue reducing violence in Afghanistan.
The agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban comes after a seven-day period of reduced violence in Afghanistan. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomed the successful conclusion of this period of violence reduction, which should lead to the start of intra-Afghan negotiations.
“All stakeholders must now seek to take genuine and concrete steps to end the war,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Afghanistan, in a press statement issued on the day of the signature of the Doha Agreement.
Conclusion: Doha Agreement Pays
Peace in Afghanistan seems, at last at hand, after thousands of victims on both sides, billions of dollars of war expenditure and decades of restlessness and violence. The Doha Agreement seems to pay and to bring peace to this part of the world that is badly in need of economic development and peace of mind.
Let’s hope that the Doha Agreement will lead to a new chapter of understanding and cooperation between the Talibans and the Afghan government for the good of the country and the wellbeing of its people. Amen.