Conflict Alerts # 32, 26 February 2020
In the news
The US and the Taliban agreed on a seven-day "reduction in violence" across Afghanistan beginning 22 February 2020. According to the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, this would “will build on this fundamental step to deliver a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire and the future political roadmap for Afghanistan” and lead to intra-Afghan negotiations. It is expected that this process would lead to the signing of a larger deal on 29 February in Qatar between US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Javid Faisal, the spokesperson for the Afghan National Security Adviser, said, “based on the plan, the reduction in violence will start between the Taliban and international and Afghan security forces for one week.” He also said that Afghan security forces would continue normal operations against other terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State, and would respond if the Taliban violated the RIV agreement.
Under the terms of the “reduction in violence”, which covers all of Afghanistan and also applies to Afghan forces as well as the United States and Taliban, all sides have committed to ending attacks for seven days. For the Taliban, that includes roadside bombings, suicide attacks and rocket strikes. The Taliban military commission issued instructions to its commanders “to stop attacks from February 22 against foreign and Afghan forces until Feb 29.” The peace deal also calls for the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners, most of whom are being held by the Afghan government.
Issues at large
US President Donald Trump has long sought a comprehensive agreement with the Taliban, which could bring about a diminished US presence in the region. The RIV Agreement comes following months of negotiations between US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and his team and Taliban negotiators in Doha. Khalilzad has met with key international and US stakeholders over the past several weeks.
The US and the Taliban reached an agreement "in principle" in early September 2019, Trump's special envoy for Afghanistan said at the time. But shortly thereafter, Trump called off peace talks and said he cancelled a secret Camp David summit with the militant group after they took credit for a deadly attack in Kabul that killed a US service member.
In a surprise visit to Afghanistan in November 2019, Trump announced that the talks had restarted. The US President made the announcement shortly after the Taliban released an American and Australian professor in exchange for the release of three Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government. The State Department announced in early December 2019, that Khalilzad had re-joined talks with the Taliban in Doha.
By agreeing to pause hostilities for seven days, the US and the Taliban could set Afghanistan on the path toward a peace agreement that has eluded the country for nearly two decades. If it succeeds, it could ultimately lead to a significant reduction of the approximately 12,000 US troops in Afghanistan. This could pave the way for negotiations among Afghans, sustainable peace, and ensuring the country is never again a haven for terrorists.
But the road ahead is fraught with difficulties, particularly as some Taliban elements and other groups have shown little interest in negotiations. It also remains unclear who would represent Kabul at the intra-Afghan talks. Ghani’s rivals have disputed the Afghan election commission’s declaration that he won the presidential election. The Taliban have refused to talk to Ghani’s government and also denounced the election results, saying they will talk to government representatives but only as ordinary Afghans, not as officials. Germany and Norway have both offered to host the all-Afghan talks, but no venue has yet been set.
Pompeo’s statement did not say who would represent Kabul only that “intra-Afghan negotiations will start soon” after the signing in Doha “and will build on this fundamental step to deliver a comprehensive and permanent cease-fire and the future political road map for Afghanistan.”