Afghanistan’s President, Ashraf Ghani, has announced an unconditional ceasefire with the Taliban until June 20. At the outset, this looks like a last throw of the dice by Ashraf Ghani at peace before the elections. His tenure as President has seen a worsening security situation and a strengthened Taliban. The latest SIGAR Quarterly report (April 2018) noted that:
The winter months saw an unusual surge of violence in Kabul, reflecting the insurgency’s shift to launching successive attacks on civilians in the capital in response to increased ANDSF pressure in the provinces.
Neither has this ceasefire announcement come out of the blue. Earlier in February, Ghani offered to negotiate with the Taliban without preconditions if they would halt their ties with terrorism and respect the Afghanistan constitution. President Ghani had also raised the idea of the Taliban becoming a political party. That didn’t bear any fruit. The Taliban has only increased attacks in Kabul and has spurned all talks about talks with the Afghan government.
So here we are. The unconditional ceasefire is unlikely to nudge the Taliban into talks. They are negotiating from a position of strength with respect to the Afghan government now. Moreover, the current Taliban leadership is under the direct control of Pakistan and has no autonomy whatsoever. This is what we wrote last year:
The current leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhunzada, is little known and has been foisted by Pakistan to deny autonomy to the group. Together, the Taliban and the Haqqani network – both beholden to Pakistan – have made it clear that their endgame is not talks but conquest. Even though the National Unity Government (NUG) has tried several processes from Istanbul to Murree to Kabul, and has opened up the terms of the dialogue to include a number of wide-ranging issues, Pakistan has made it clear that this military lever will not be transitioned into a political one.
Perhaps the best outcome that the Afghan government can hope to achieve from this unconditional ceasefire is to break the Taliban into credible factions that can become negotiators in the next round of talks.
PS: All this churn favours Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose return to Afghanistan in 2017 was engineered by Pakistan and is being repositioned by the Pakistan as a mainstream political leader.