Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

Afghan Government Ceasefire Initiative Should Encompass Security, Peace & Development Strategy

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Afghan Government Ceasefire Initiative Should  Encompass Security, Peace & Development Strategy

Recent ceasefire may be followed by trustworthy peace process monitoring mechanism supplemented with confidence building and trust building measures, all under overall security, peace and development strategy. In response to President Ghani’s announcement on 7th June for a temporary unconditional ceasefire with Taliban until June 20, coinciding with the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, Eid, Taliban responded to observe a ceasefire for three days coinciding with the end of the Eid month. For the first time since their overthrown in 2001, Taliban responded. Taliban ceasefire ended on 17th June mid night. The Government extended the ceasefire period for ten days more. But, Taliban did not extend and announced start of new operation. Both parties overlapped ceasefire for a brief period of three days but it had great significance. It is unprecedented and rightly so, it is welcome by all, the United Nations, the US administration, the government of Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan.
During the ceasefire, Taliban members visited the Government controlled areas and other way round, where people visited Taliban areas. They flocked to provincial cities including Kabul. Their weapons were collected at the government check posts and so they were unarmed. Some were reported of having weapons. They were noticed exchanging Eid pleasantries and hugging Afghan security and police personnel. Minister of Interior Barmak also reportedly met Taliban groups on second day of Eid, Saturday, at roadside in the outskirts of Kabul. Many of Taliban wore traditional headgear, some hid their faces, board on vehicles and motorbikes. They had their flags. The Taliban urged people to come forward and take selfies. Some people were dancing and clapping as onlookers took photos. There was euphoria and optimism everywhere. Peace prevailed everywhere except in Nangarhar province where in two separate incidents on 16th and 17th June - the second and third day of three days period, at least 50 persons killed and 110 injured. Both are suspected to be carried out by Islamic State.  The country was never so peaceful in the last few years as it was during the ceasefire. There are at least 21 international terrorists groups operating in the country and still ceasefire was respected by all. It gives hope to people of Afghanistan that they can bring back peace and they can move on the path leading to peace, stability and development.
Ceasefire offers were carefully crafted by both, the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, with their respective caveats. The Afghan security forces will continue to ‘’stop offensive maneuvers against Afghan armed Taliban and will continue to target Daesh [IS] and other foreign-backed terrorist organizations and their affiliates”. The US state department said the ceasefire does not “prohibit operations to defend Afghan and Coalition forces from attack”. Taliban also said that the foreign forces would be excluded from the ceasefire, and operations against them would continue. They would defend themselves against any attack.
In the country where 21 identified terrorist organizations operate and cross connection among them cannot be ruled out, the violence during the Ramdan month did not cease fully. On 09th June, on one day itself 65 security personnel had been killed in three attacks. There was an escalation in attacks before three days ceasefire started. These were either strategic tactics or maneuvered attacks under caveats, but these should not deter the peace efforts which were initiated by the Government and responded by Taliban. These efforts were also supplemented by few confidence building measures, including the release of prisoners and detainees and visits of families.  One hundred and eighty four prisoners affiliated with the Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) were released from prisoners on 14th June, Thursday, which was followed by the release of fifty four Taliban prisoners by Government as goodwill gesture.
Turning out of Taliban leaders, although middle level leaders, was a surprise for all. It was welcome by people and government security forces, like home coming after a prolong exile. Taliban groups have military strategy and political strategy and even during Eid visits, they were with their flags to get political and ideological mileage. They left weapons behind but not the flags. They demonstrated their distinct identity and possibly its acceptability among Afghans. People driven peace ace initiatives have started in the country but still at nascent stage. It is a beginning of an era where people are fed up of violence and they have started seeking peace. A group of 8 Helmand Peace Convoy activists started from Helmand on 12th May and walked over 630 kms to Kabul spreading a message of peace in Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul and Ghazni provinces. Most of them are victims of war and they are of all ages, 17 to 65.  The group enlarged to more than 30 en-route. After walking for 38 days, they reached Kabul on 17th June, chanting slogans of ‘stop the war’ and ‘we want peace’. 
Everyone in Afghanistan wants peace: the government, the people and the Taliban. Recent truce is a sign that Taliban may look for a political solution. If they make their intention unequivocal then it should be pro-actively facilitated through confidence building and trust building measures, so that there is win-win situation for all. Towards these, we need a trustworthy peace process monitoring mechanism, including ceasefires so that violations, if any, can be investigated quickly to identify the perpetrators isolating Taliban from terrorist organizations and identify cross connections. Same time, the mechanism will keep a check on both, the Taliban and the Government.
South Asia strategy of United States may work if it can engage more regional actors in economic development, peace process and counter insurgency operations. Engagement of UAE and Qatar is worth of appreciation. More countries are to be engaged. It will develop political consensus in the region to strike off support to Talban, which will put more pressure on Taliban to explore nonmilitary solutions. Economic development, peace process and counter insurgency all have to go hand in hand together. Counter insurgency operations should have better defined objectivity to the start of peace process which include aspects of accountability, reconciliation and rehabilitation and these are to be integrated to development activities.

The author is the emerging writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammed.g.sahibbzada@gmail.com

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