Will War in Afghanistan End? Government Announces Taliban Ceasefire in Desperate Move to End Violence

After weeks of speculation about whether the Afghan government was holding secret talks with the Taliban, President Ashraf Ghani announced an unconditional ceasefire with the group.

The ceasefire will last until June 20 to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Ghani said Thursday. The decision to call an unconditional ceasefire, the first of its kind since Ghani took office, was made in response to a fatwa against suicide bombings issued by a group of Islamic clerics.

Afghanistan has experienced a wave of violence in recent months, including an increase in the number of attacks in its capital, Kabul, as the country fights both the Taliban and the Islamic State. The government deems ending violence with the Taliban necessary to end the spate of attacks. Still, some experts said it’s likely the ceasefire will be ineffective. 

“We should not overstate the significance of this ceasefire. It's essentially a truce that the Taliban likely won't abide by and that will, at any rate, expire in two weeks,” Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Wilson Center, told Newsweek. “Kabul wants the Taliban to view the ceasefire as a demonstration of good faith and an indication that the Afghan government is ready to talk peace with the Taliban. The problem is that so long as the Taliban thinks it's winning the war, it's not going to stop fighting, no matter what Kabul may offer. And let's be clear: The Taliban very much thinks it's winning the war.”

Some analysts indicated the Afghan government has decided it cannot beat the Taliban militarily. Instead, the government hopes to forge a political agreement with the group so that it can focus its attention on defeating the Islamic State within its borders. Reports have suggested that Ghani first offered to meet with Taliban leaders in February but never received an answer. Several months later, however, U.S. military officials said talks were taking place behind the scenes.

“The Afghan government's offer of an unconditional ceasefire, coming after efforts over previous months to find a peace deal with the Taliban, is evidence of the government's recognition of the Taliban as a long-term political player in Afghanistan. It is also recognition of the futility of pursuing an outright military victory against the militants and the government's willingness to try new approaches to try to end the violence,” Harrison Akins, a Middle East analyst at the Howard Baker Center, told Newsweek.

“In regards to the continued targeting of Islamic State and Al-Qaeda forces, the government appears to be trying to take advantage of conflict between militant groups to try to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table,” Akins added.

Ghani has said the ceasefire will provide the Taliban with a chance for introspection, so the group can realize that "it's not winning hearts and minds." But some said it will have the opposite effect. 

"The ceasefire shows yet again the leverage the Taliban now has thanks to its recent attacks," Chris Meserole, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution, told Newsweek. “What’s most interesting is that the ceasefire doesn’t apply to the Islamic State. Whereas the Taliban have primarily attacked security forces, the Islamic State’s violence has much been much less selective, and has killed far more civilians."

Meserole noted that "the Taliban’s strategy appears to have paid off— there’s popular support for a ceasefire with the Taliban, but not for one with the Islamic State.”

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