Last Thursday’s agreement between the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, and the Taliban can at best be greeted with a modified ‘yes’, if not the tongue-in-cheek barb of international observers that the unconditional ceasefire is a “one-sided love story”.
The enormity of the Afghan tragedy will be heightened if indeed the government is being led up the garden path. Well might the establishment in Kabul ~ of late the centre of Taliban bombing ~ seem mildly satisfied that it is President Ghani’s first major achievement since he assumed power in 2014; theoretically it is a reassuring epilogue to the Ramadan month of fasts.
That said, the singular cause for alarm must be the exclusion of the equally sinister Islamic State of Iraq and Syria from the ambit of what has been orchestrated as a truce ~ a scarce commodity in a volatile land for the past three decades. The risk of the Caliphate extending its tentacles to fill the Taliban “vacuum” is dangerously real; ISIS is known to step in in the face of a political vacuum as well.
Aside from the Ramadan/Id-ul-Fitr connotation, the timing of the agreement is significant; it has been concluded in the immediate aftermath of the conclave of clerics who have declared a fatwa against suicide bombings ~ the thread that binds the militant groups, cutting across labels. In terms of strategy, the militants have lost the tacit support of the clerics.
The latter have also recommended a ceasefire with the Taliban, who are seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law after their ouster in 2001. President Ghani has endorsed the recommendation, announcing a “laying down of arms” until June 20. Not that the President has never called for a ceasefire with the Taliban before; but this is his first unconditional offer since he was elected four years ago.
The outlook remains ever so uncertain as the fundamentalist groups, not least the Taliban, have been muted in their response both to the ceasefire agreement and President Ghani’s somewhat emotional televised address ~ “This ceasefire is an opportunity for Taliban to introspect that their violent campaign is not winning them hearts and minds but further alienating them. With the ceasefire announcement, we epitomise the strength of the Afghan government and the will of the people for a peaceful resolution to the Afghan conflict.”
Viewed through the military prism, it does seem likely, however, that the truce will provide the enemy with the opportunity to prepare itself for more attacks. Taliban being Taliban, it is doubtful if it will lay down arms and desist from perpetrating yet more outrages. Enough have perished over the past several years, and the ceasefire agreement direly needs to be given a try by both sides of the divide. The Taliban has been trying to regain its moorings ever since it was ousted in 2001. Let peace prevail.