BFF-32 Afghanistan: Where things stand and what lies ahead





Afghanistan: Where things stand and what lies ahead

KABUL, Feb 24, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – As the United States and the Taliban
stand on the verge of signing a historic deal that would see the Pentagon
pull thousands of troops from Afghanistan, questions remain about what
happens next.

Here are some details about the accord and its implications for the war-
wracked nation:

Have the two sides agreed to a ceasefire?

Not quite, but the Taliban, US and Afghan forces have committed to a
“reduction in violence” or a partial, week-long truce.

This is more significant than it sounds because it is only the second such
lull in fighting since the US-led invasion of 2001.

If it holds, it is expected to create the conditions for Washington and
the insurgents to sign a deal in Doha on Saturday that would see thousands of
US troops leave Afghanistan after more than 18 years, in return for various
security commitments from the Taliban.

News of the truce has sparked joy across Afghanistan, with civilians
pouring onto the streets to dance and celebrate the prospect of an end to the
conflict that has cost tens of thousands of lives.

Isolated attacks have continued, however, underscoring the difficulty of
securing a permanent respite from violence.

And details of what exactly the truce means are vague.

While the US has cited an “understanding” for a “significant and
nationwide reduction in violence”, Afghan forces have vowed to remain “on
active defence status” during the week.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid meanwhile has insisted the pause does
not amount to “a ceasefire”, and said it only covers certain urban and
military areas, seemingly leaving open the prospect of violence in remote
rural areas.

Fears that competing sides could exploit a lull to secure territorial
advantage — dashing any hopes for peace — have also surfaced in the run-up
to Saturday’s meeting.

What can we expect on Saturday?

If the truce is successful, Washington will sign an accord with the

Under the terms of the deal, Washington is initially expected to reduce
troop levels to around 8,600 — down from the current level of 12,000-13,000.

The remaining forces would stay behind on a “conditions-based” timeline to
fight jihadists such as the Islamic State group, and monitor the overall
security situation.

Ultimately, if all goes well, the US troop presence could go down to zero
— but few observers expect that to happen any time soon.

The US and the Taliban have been tantalisingly close to a deal before,
only to see President Donald Trump nix it at the eleventh hour.

What happens next?

Key to a lasting peace depends largely on the outcome of talks between the
Taliban and the Afghan government, rather than between the insurgents and the

Any such “intra-Afghan” agreement is expected to take years, analysts

The infighting between key political figures may also scupper chances of
an agreement.

With President Ashraf Ghani and rival Abdullah Abdullah at loggerheads
over contested election results, few expect the pair to bury the hatchet and
present a united front.

“At this stage it remains difficult to see President Ghani presenting a
delegation that would be accepted by all strata of Afghan society,
particularly the political opposition,” policy analyst Mariam Safi told AFP.

Further bickering would likely weaken Kabul’s position and allow the
insurgents to take the upper hand in negotiations, with grim implications for
Afghanistan’s nascent democracy.