EU Special Envoy for Afghanistan Roland Kobia (left) and EU Ambassador to Afghanistan Pierre Mayaudon look on during a press conference in Kabul on October 20, 2019. - EU officials on October 20 called for a ceasefire in Afghanistan, saying the breakdown in talks between the US and the Taliban presented an opportunity to push again for a truce. (Wakil Kohsar / AFP via Getty Images)

Afghan Taliban: No Truce Yet with US

Islamists’ refusal to deal with Kabul ‘puppet government’ seen as the main obstacle to a peace deal

[Islamabad] The Taliban on Monday strongly denied reports that it had agreed to a ceasefire with the US in Afghanistan.

Zabiullah Mujahid, the Afghan Taliban chief spokesperson, said in a press release that “over the past few days, some media have been reporting false and baseless reports about the ceasefire by the Islamic Emirate [the Afghan Taliban]. The fact is that we have no ceasefire agreement.

“The decision about any ceasefire has not yet been finalized by the Supreme Council of the Afghan Taliban. However, there is no contradiction among the ranks of the Taliban in this regard. Some devious and hostile intelligence agencies are trying to sabotage the ongoing peace process by spreading such news,” Mujahid further said.

Suhail Shaheen, a Doha-based Afghan Taliban political spokesman, told The Media Line that the text of the Doha truce proposal had been finalized; it only needed to be signed by both parties, the US and the Taliban.

Shaheen said that during the recent talks, the US had proposed requiring a reduction in violence for a number of days before the signing ceremony. “The proposal is under discussion and consideration by our leadership and is in the final stages. But it needs the approval of our supreme leader,” he added.

Regarding reports of a “pre-agreement ceasefire,” Shaheen told The Media Line that “media outlets must show extreme responsibility in such matters and especially the mainstream media should not publish such unverified news in this fragile situation. When the [ceasefire] agreement happens, we will definitely share it with the media.”

However, a Taliban official, speaking on condition of anonymity from an undisclosed location, confirmed to The Media Line that senior Taliban members, including deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, visited Helmand province to discuss a possible ceasefire with their field commanders.

Brig. Gen. (ret.) Haris Nawaz, a prominent Pakistani defense and political analyst, told The Media Line that “the Trump Administration wants a smooth withdrawal of its troops without getting embroiled in further fighting with the Afghan Taliban.”

The American administration also wanted an assurance from the Afghan Taliban that “after the US troop withdrawal, they [the Afghan Taliban] would never harbor al-Qaida or host any other foreign terrorist group plotting against the US homeland or its allies anywhere across the world,” Nawaz added.

Nawaz further told The Media Line that “obviously, without a ceasefire, there will be no peace in a war-torn country. Consequently, the US administration would be forced to keep its troops in Afghanistan. Trump’s campaign promise to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan would not be fulfilled, which could ultimately cause irreparable harm to Trump’s re-election campaign. So the Trump administration is trying its best to sign a peace deal with the Afghan Taliban before the 2020 elections.

“The US administration wants a ceasefire until finalization of the peace talks to tell the American people that there is an environment conducive to pulling out safely from Afghanistan,” Nawaz said.

He added that “the US administration also wants a guarantee that the Taliban would stop attacking US troops. They are also trying to push the Afghan Taliban to recognize the Kabul government’s legitimacy. However, this is the main obstacle. The Taliban are not yet persuaded [to do that] as they have always called this government an American puppet.”

Nawaz also told The Media Line that “US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had already outlined this as one of the major obstacle points in the terms of the ceasefire. In any case, some confidence-building measurements must be taken to indicate seriousness in the peace deal. Moreover, the Afghan government and all regional stakeholders need to be a part of the peace agreement. The Taliban also want an ‘international guarantee’ that the US will stick to the agreement and for the release of all Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government,” Nawaz said.

In contrast, Naeem Khalid Lodhi, a former Pakistani defense minister, told The Media Line that in order “to retain its influence in the region, the US does not want peace in Afghanistan.”

Lodhi also said that “efforts by Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran can avert or reduce violence after the US troops’ evacuation. The Afghan people and the group of four [above-mentioned countries] are the real peacemakers. The center of peace activities should be Islamabad, not Doha.

“[President] Ashraf Ghani is not representative of the majority of the Afghan people. The recent [parliamentary] elections were a farce. The present Afghan government won’t last for a week after the US forces leave,” Lodhi claimed.

Earlier, Jawed Durrani, the deputy spokesman for Ghani, told reporters in Kabul that once the US and Taliban finalized the truce deal, the Afghan government was ready to send its team to start direct peace talks with the Taliban. “The government of Afghanistan has made preparations and formed an effective, concise and capable team for talks with the Taliban and for ensuring a ceasefire,” Durrani told the TOLOnews Afghan news channel.

Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based national security expert, told The Media Line that the United States, while looking for a gradual reduction in the number of its troops in Afghanistan, could justify leaving without some sort of guarantee that the country would not once again become a failed terror state, completely controlled by the Taliban and providing haven to every major terrorist organization in the region, as was the case 2001.

“That means leaving some troops on the ground. But if the Taliban harms those forces in the process of consolidating power, that will force the US to return [in force].”

But, Tsukerman continued, the US keeping any troops at all in Afghanistan would slow down the Taliban’s consolidation of control, so from their perspective, it would be better to keep the pressure on the US, to make it seem like the White House was not fulfilling the campaign promise to end “endless wars” and make the US public demand a quick withdrawal before the November 2020 elections.

Tsukerman further told The Media Line that “Kabul has not been happy with this course; the US essentially is seen as abandoning its ally to the mercies of the Taliban. Instead of working with Kabul to create viable infrastructure and institutions that would make Afghanistan self-sustaining, the US presence in Afghanistan has become a sort of fixture that has allowed necessities to flow into the country, whereas the Taliban has neither the motivation nor the logistical means to provide these necessities.

“The US has failed to create a viable substitute [or its troop presence] or to ensure that Kabul has the means and the resources to function independently and not fall to the Taliban. This comes at odds with the earlier US rhetoric about defining victory as an independent, secure and free Afghanistan. The US not only has not fulfilled its vision of eradicating terrorism and extremism, it has not even met Afghanistan halfway to ensure it could fight these ongoing problems on its own,” she said.

Tsukerman, National Security Expert, also noted that Russia wanted to make sure the US withdrawal was as “complete and humiliating as possible,” because it saw US failure in Afghanistan as payback for the quagmire and humiliation the Soviet Union experienced in Afghanistan in the 1980s at the hands of US-backed local forces.

“Its [Russia’s] interests in Afghanistan are entirely pragmatic; it wants to continue playing the role of a power broker with all sides, displacing the US as the go-to power,” Tsukerman said.

Nasir Jamal Afandi, a Kabul-based analyst, told The Media Line that “the Afghan Taliban are not showing any flexibility while it comes to recognizing the Afghan government as a legitimate party for the peace talks. The Afghan Taliban political team had frequently visited Islamabad, Beijing, Moscow and Tehran to develop ties with the regional powers. Islamabad, Moscow and Beijing have already hosted various intra-Afghan meetings in an effort to bring them [the Taliban] back on the negotiating table.

The Taliban are insisting that the Afghan government release their 5,000 Taliban prisoners. Meanwhile, US officials are pushing the Islamists to engage the Ghani government in the peace talks, seeing that as the main obstacle to a final peace agreement, Afandi said.

“If we look at the ongoing peace or ceasefire process, Kabul is sitting on the sidelines. But all the regional powers, including Pakistan, believe that intra-Afghan dialogue is critical for long-lasting stability in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the Afghan Taliban is not engaging directly with the Afghan government,” he said.

Meanwhile, Afandi said, the Ghani government does not want the US troops to withdraw because Kabul knows full well the incapacity of Afghan forces to counter a Taliban insurgency against what the Islamists call “the puppet regime.” That, as well as the presence of hard-line anti-Taliban officials within the government, made it difficult for Taliban-government talks to succeed, Afandi said.

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