Leaders of the different sides of the Afghan conflict met for the first time in decades in a conference hall at the President Hotel in Moscow. This meeting was held under the collective sponsorship of the United States of America, Russia, China, Turkey, Pakistan, and Qatar. Their joint statement called for a ceasefire. Keeping in mind the parlous state of the country, ending violence is an appealing notion, but it is important that any such move should not undermine the position of the Afghan republic on the negotiating table.
There has recently been a blame game between the United States and the Taliban over possible violations of the agreement signed between them in Qatar last year. This time, any agreements for a ceasefire in Afghanistan should not leave any room for uncertainty. Ambiguity tends to provoke an immediate split of understanding between the signatories the moment they leave the negotiating table. After Doha the Taliban claimed that they had not sought “illegitimate” targets as per the agreement, whilst the US accused them of escalating violence no matter what the target. Keeping this history in mind, those demanding a ceasefire should rethink its applicability to and practicality for the Afghan issue.
Any agreements for a ceasefire in Afghanistan should not leave any room for uncertainty.
There are certain elements of ceasefire agreements that are fundamental to their success. One example is a precise geographical map that designates the party in control of each area, and their permitted activities within them. This would be an explicit admission to the scale of the Taliban territorial control in Afghanistan which might further tip the negotiation leverage in favor of the Taliban, allowing them to demand a larger say in the structure and outcome of the talks.
Another urgent issue involves a ceasefire that might be conditional and time-limited. The government would have to agree to disengage militarily with the Taliban, who would govern and recruit within their sphere of influence. If the agreement breaks down, this would leave the government at a military disadvantage, facing tougher resistance—as they did when they complied with US demands and released the 5,000 prisoners under the US-Taliban agreement in Qatar.
If the United States is to be an honest broker, no matter what the desire to safeguard progress that has been made in the past two decades, it would have to let the will of the Afghan people decide the country’s future. Along with the other sponsoring nations in Moscow, it is legitimate for the US to exert pressure to limit the use of threats and violence by any party to achieve political status, which would mean not succumbing to the appeal of a ceasefire, but an inclusive transitional government must be formed for it to lay the groundwork for a free and fair election that includes all parties to the conflict.
In the end, many Afghan voices have not been heard over two decades of the latest war – partly because those elements of society were not at the forefront of the violence. All parties must be fearless, less concerned with their individual fiefdoms, and more with a just and political end to the conflict. Only then will Afghanistan see an end to war rather than yet another tenuous and temporary ceasefire.