Is there a chance for peace in Afghanistan? | Photo: ResoluteSupportMedia | CC BY 2.0

After the Afghan Eid Truce, Is There a Path for Peace?

The three day surprise, the unprecedented Eid-al-Fitar [1] truce (15-17 June, 2018) between the Afghan government and the Taliban, was welcomed locally and internationally. The truce was offered by the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani after the condemnation of extremism and violence by religious scholars and clerics in Jakarta and Kabul. It was for the first time in the last 17 years that Afghans have celebrated the occasion with joy and without fears of war and violence. The Taliban fighters without fright of arrest or detention entered the cities, villages and towns to offer Eid-Prayers and meet their fellow countrymen and family members. The internet and local media have captured scenes of Afghan soldiers and Taliban fighters embracing each other. The truce was welcomed with the hope that this might be the first important step towards a long enduring path of peace in the country.

The path to the Eid-Truce

Prior to this historic occasion there were some important developments locally and internationally, that contributed to the successful Eid truce. First, on February 28, 2018 during the Second Kabul Process meeting in which representatives of more than 25 countries were present, the Afghan president Ghani asked the Taliban to join the peace process. This was followed by a meeting of more than 70 religious scholars and clerics from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia in Jakarta in May, who issued a fatwa (edict) in which they denounced terrorism and extremism: “We reaffirm that violence and terrorism cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group, as violent extremism and terrorism in all forms and manifestations including violence against civilians and suicide attacks are against the holy principle of Islam.” The fatwa also condemned suicide attacks, considering them against the teachings of Islam. This declaration has helped to challenge Taliban’s narrative of their holy war.

Thirdly, on May 17, 2018 a group of seven Afghan peace activists started their peace march towards Kabul from the southern Helmand province. The catalyst behind the march was a suicide bombing in Lashkargah district of Helmand province which killed 13 people while watching an open air wrestling match. These young activists were fed up with the fighting and started their sit-ins and a hunger strike in Helmand. They called on the Afghan government as well as on the Taliban for a ceasefire. On the way to Kabul, the peace activists were welcomed by the Afghan population and they were offered food, cloth and support. On June 4, 2018 the Afghan Ulema[2] council meeting in Kabul, in which more than 2000 religious scholars and clerics took part, was a milestone for the three day truce. In this meeting the Ulema has called on the government and the Taliban to halt the fighting and start negotiations. They declared that suicide attacks are “haram” (prohibited) in Islam. The declaration of the Ulema council stated: “We, the religious Ulema, call on the Taliban to respond positively to the peace offer of the Afghan government in order to prevent further bloodshed in the country.”

After the Afghan Ulema council demands for peace, the Afghan president Ghani announced a 10 days truce starting from 27 Ramadan (12 June, 2018), a holy month in the Islamic Calendar. The president announced in his Facebook page “This ceasefire is an opportunity for the Taliban to realize that their violent campaign is not winning them hearts and minds but further alienating the Afghan people from their cause.” The announcement added that the presidential truce was only with the Taliban and excluded ISIS. After two days of Ghani’s offer, the Taliban have agreed to a three day Eid truce with the Afghan government. The Taliban have ordered their fighters to “stop offensive operations against Afghan forces for the first three days of Eid and defend itself if under attack and the ceasefire is not applied to foreign forces present in Afghan soil”. The NATO, the U.S. and the regional powers have welcomed the breakthrough which was unprecedented in past 17 years.

The growing domestic and international demand for peace

The series of events before and after the Eid truce indicates that there is a growing demand for peace in Afghanistan. The people are tired of incessant violence and war; they want peace, stability and progress. That is why there is a rising grassroots peace movement within the country demanding ceasefire and negotiations. Initially when the Helmand peace activists started their journey towards Kabul no one believed in their success, however within days pro-peace protests started in other provinces as well. The Afghan society is an Islamic society and the role of Islamic scholars and clerics is important. The largest gathering of the Ulema council meeting in Kabul has a daunting effect on both the government and the Taliban. The declaration of the council about the war and suicide bombings has challenged and weakened the holy war narratives of Taliban. The growing insecurity and the rise of ISIS in parts of Afghanistan is another important domestic pressure on the government as well as on the Taliban to initiate new approaches for peace.

In addition to the domestic pressure, there is a growing regional and international pressure for peace as well. The Ghani government is under immense pressure to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table because of the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for 2018-19. Regional powers like Iran and China as well as international players like Russia, NATO and the US have supported the peace process initiated by the Afghan government or regional powers. In the 2018 Tashkent conference, 22 countries have participated and  ratified a declaration of support for the Afghan government and its efforts for a peaceful resolution of the Afghan conflict. As a strong supporter of the Taliban, Pakistan is also under the pressure from China to ensure security along the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan because of the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) project. The Trump administration is also using economic as well as military pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting the Taliban and bringing them to negotiations. Pakistan is also demanding actions against anti Pakistan elements present in Afghanistan especially against Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TIP) members.

Due to the above mentioned local, regional and international pressures the Taliban are ready for negotiations according to Molla Abdul Sallam Zaeef.[3] They are insisting on direct negotiations with the U.S. and consider the present Afghan regime as a puppet to which they are not ready to talk to. In this context, the recent truce can be considered as a kind of confident building measure by the Taliban for peaceful negotiations. Recently, according to Wall Street Journal, the U.S. administration has started contacts with the Taliban Qatar office “to lay the groundwork for peace talks” which is a positive sign for the future of peace and peaceful negotiations in Afghanistan.

The way forward

The current situation in Afghanistan is more conducive for peace as ever before. The Afghan government, the Taliban and the international community is striving for a peaceful settlement of the issue. As the Afghan conflict is not between two parties, it is a conflict in which the regional as well as international powers are involved in one way or another. The bilateral and trilateral negotiations have not produced fruitful results in the past and will not in the future, the Qatar peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban failed because of a lack of confidence and point scoring strategies. The Islamabad, Moscow and Beijing initiatives failed because of lack of comprehensiveness strategy. These negotiations and contacts in the past have only boosted the confidence between different actors involved in the war and the three day truce announced by the Taliban can be a step stone for a comprehensive peace strategy.

So the way out from this turmoil is a comprehensive and coordinated strategy in which the U.S., Russia, NATO, regional countries, the Afghan government and the Taliban sit together under the United Nations umbrella and devise a formula for the initiation of peace talks to end this long war and draw strategies to deter the rising ISIS in the country and in the region.

 

[1] The Muslim holiday marking the end of the fast of Ramadan

[2] A body of Muslim scholars who are recognized as having specialist knowledge of Islamic sacred law and theology

[3] Zaeef was the Taliban’s regime ambassador to Pakistan before US invasion of Afghanistan

 

Further Reading:

Aakhunzzada, Ahmad Noor Baheige (2018): A Ray of Hope for Afghanistan. Over the Last Few Years the Security Situation Has Changed Significantly, PRIF Spotlight 4/2018, Frankfurt/M.

Ahmad Aakhunzzada
Ahmad Noor Aakhunzzada is a senior researcher in the Intrastate Conflict department at PRIF. In his research, he focuses on i.a. terrorism and islamist radicalization.
Ahmad Aakhunzzada

Latest posts by Ahmad Aakhunzzada (see all)

Ahmad Aakhunzzada

Ahmad Noor Aakhunzzada is a senior researcher in the Intrastate Conflict department at PRIF. In his research, he focuses on i.a. terrorism and islamist radicalization.

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