GP Insights # 266, 22 February 2020
On 21 February, the US and the Taliban signed a seven days of "reduction in violence" agreement. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated that "this deal will be a test on Taliban willingness and ability to reduce violence in the region." The agreement proposes that no offensive will be launched by the Taliban, Afghan or any international troops. The forces would hold their positions, but not launch any attacks, including roadside bombs, suicide attacks and attacks on check posts. Pakistan has officially welcomed the agreement.
What is the background?
During recent weeks, the negotiations between the US and the Taliban became intense, and an announcement was expected between the two over a ceasefire and a long term road map towards political stability in Afghanistan. Instead of a ceasefire, both countries agreed to a "Reduction in Violence" agreement.
Earlier this month, both the US and the Taliban agreed to sign the first phase of the deal, after seven days "reduction in violence", to bring an end to the conflict. Last year (2019) witnessed several attempts and failures in the peace talks between the US and the Taliban.
The Afghan government has been side-lined from the US-Taliban talks. Last week, President Ashraf Ghani was declared the winner in presidential elections held in September 2019. Ghani's rival Abdullah Abdullah has disputed the election results and said that he would form an alternative government.
The US special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, who leads the US negotiations, is surprised by the election results and is trying to prevent a political crisis in Afghanistan. The US had distanced itself from acknowledging the election results.
What does it mean?
First, the reduction in violence will be a step forward to end the two-decade-long war in Afghanistan. The phase one agreement is expected to be signed by 29 February in Doha. However, the possibility that the parties involved could spark unrest in Afghanistan, during the seven-day reduction in violence, the agreement cannot be ruled out.
Second, the Afghan election result, which was declared the same week of the signing of the deal shows a keen focus to have, a leader in Afghanistan to further work on intra-Afghan talks. The political chaos that emerged between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, however, could harm the US-Taliban deal.
Third, the seven-day reduction will test Taliban leadership's ability to control its forces in-line with any peace deal signed.
Fourth, the US and Taliban have never been so close to agreeing on a peace-deal. If successful, the seven-day "reduction in violence" would be followed by a US-Taliban peace deal and pave the way for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. This will be a fulfilment of the 2016-campaign promise by Trump and is likely to become a Trump card for Trump's 2020 election campaign.
Fifth, it is unclear how Pakistan's military and other neighbours including Iran and India would respond to the US-Taliban peace deal and the withdrawal of foreign troops.