As the Taliban and the United States appear to be on the cusp of a peace deal, Afghanistan needs a lasting cease-fire to create conditions for ending more than four decades of war in the country.
Talks between the two sides appear to have recovered after U.S. President Donald Trump unexpectedly stepped back from a deal with the Taliban insurgents in September.
After months of diplomatic efforts, discussions between Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. peace envoy for Afghanistan, and the Taliban now appear to have paused on the modalities of a cease-fire or other forms of substantially reducing violence.
This will be crucial. The two sides need to immediately agree on a cease-fire. It will help in jumpstarting long-awaited peace talks between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and a broad array of political and social groups that form the mosaic of contemporary Afghan society.
Trump cited the need for the Taliban to renounce violence when he canceled an imminent deal with the insurgents four months ago. He said a Taliban attack in Kabul that killed one U.S. soldier along with killing and injuring many Afghans forced him to pull the plug on an agreed deal.
Unfortunately, similar violent attacks continue across Afghanistan as large numbers of Afghan civilians continue to suffer. Continued attacks after a possible deal between the United States and the Taliban will substantially reduce the chances of peace negotiations between the Taliban and other Afghans resulting in lasting reconciliation.
This is why a comprehensive nationwide cease-fire or other solid mechanisms needs to be in place before a deal between Washington and the Taliban is signed. It will give long-suffering civilians hope, support, and a stake in their country’s peace.
The Afghan government has clearly taken onboard the message that violence needs to be reduced substantially for any peace talks to succeed. As a result, Kabul has demanded a cease-fire as a precondition for the resumption of peace talks.
But the Taliban outlook remains a stumbling block. Many observers agree that the Taliban do not want to lose their only leverage in peace negotiations and abandon using violence to achieve their military and political objectives.
However, it is also unmistakably clear that without a meaningful reduction in violence from all sides and a complete cease-fire, the chance of peace returning to Afghanistan is as distant as Doha is from Kabul.
An immediate reduction in violence by all sides, which will culminate in a countrywide cease-fire between all the warring factions, would provide an immense boost to the chances of peace finally coming to Afghanistan. Furthermore, building bridges and improving trust between the Afghan government and the Taliban cannot be achieved while war and violence rage between them. Thus, reaching a peaceful end to the conflict in Afghanistan will require building massive bridges, which will bring more trust between the two sides and improve the environment for serious talks on resolving the substantive issues between the warring factions.
At the moment, the United States is leading the talks with Taliban representatives in Doha who themselves are immune to violence and war. They are living far from the battlefield, and there is a widening gap in life experiences between Taliban leadership living outside Afghanistan and the Taliban rank and file grappling with war and violence inside the country.
The three-day cease-fire during the Muslim holy festival of Eid al Fitr in June 2018 provided overwhelming examples of Taliban foot soldiers tired of war and violence. Many of the young combatants talked about their dreams of peace as they visited major Afghan cities that have transformed into modern urban centers over the past two decades. The visuals from the three days of the cease-fire inspired hope and excitement that one day Afghans from all sides will abandon violence and live together in peace.
It is upon the United States as the principal decision-maker on matters of war and peace and as a party currently leading the peace talks with the Taliban to press the Taliban to agree to an immediate reduction in violence, followed immediately by a countrywide cease-fire. The Afghan government and international forces in Afghanistan also need to reciprocate and reduce operations against the Taliban as a gesture of goodwill.
A reduction in violence, start of talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and a countrywide cease-fire should be synchronized in a manner that will lead to success in the ongoing peace talks. The Taliban’s foreign backers need to be convinced of this approach as well, as peace in Afghanistan is in the long-term interest of the immediate neighbors and the wider region.
Washington, Kabul, and the Taliban also need to coordinate immediately to prevent Afghanistan from turning into a battlefield between the United States and Iran. The Taliban need to resist becoming proxies for the hard-liners among the clerical regime in Tehran. The United States needs to heed Afghan leaders’ recent public pledges that its soil should not be used against neighbors as is stipulated in their Bilateral Security Agreement with Washington. It is worth noting that senior U.S. diplomats appear keen on preserving their gains in Afghanistan.
Diplomatic efforts synchronized with measures for a reduction in violence will bring equilibrium and balance to the actual life experiences of ordinary Afghans, members of Afghan security forces, and Taliban foot soldiers on the ground. With reduced violence, there will be a real chance of starting negotiations on substantive issues between the warring factions and reaching a political settlement that will put an end to the 40 years of constant war in Afghanistan.
The world needs to rally around this cause in order to end one of the longest and most destructive wars of modern times. It is unacceptable that the Afghan people continue to suffer from violence and all the ills associated with it. The Afghan people deserve to have a dignified peace that will last and which will deliver the end of violence in the country.
Khushal Wakily is a public sector governance researcher and consultant. He tweets at @kwakily. These views are the author's alone and do not represent those of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. RFE/RL Gandhara is committed to publishing a diversity of views about critical issues in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If you would like to pitch an op-ed or analysis, please write to us: firstname.lastname@example.org