A temporary ceasefire has been agreed to by the Taliban’s ruling council on Sunday, December 29, opening up the possibility for a peace agreement. The United States had set a ceasefire as a precondition for any signed peace deal. If a deal is signed, it would allow the US to end its 18-year war in Afghanistan, the longest in US history.
The duration of the ceasefire has not been specified, but it is expected to last at least 10 days. There is no word on the date it will commence.
Setbacks to the peace process
Since September 2018, US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been holding peace talks with the Taliban negotiating team. In September of this year, talks were suspended when the two sides seemed ready to sign a deal. However, after a US soldier had been killed in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, US President Donald Trump said the deal was “dead.”
Talks have since resumed in November, with the Taliban signaling they were ready to negotiate a reduction in violence. Even as the talks take place, however, violence on both sides continues unabated. Over the weekend, a Taliban-led raid killed at least 17 Afghan security personnel. According to the US military, overnight airstrikes on Sunday killed at least 13 Taliban members.
The conflict is leading to civilian deaths as well. Daily attacks from the Taliban, Afghan forces and US airstrikes have led to an increase in civilian casualties. The United Nations (UN) has called on all parties to work toward reducing these unnecessary deaths.
Thorny issues surrounding a deal
Multiple contested issues will make any deal difficult to obtain. A key tenet of the agreement is finding a pathway towards sustainable peace between the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), backed by the United States, and the Taliban.
Issues at stake in these discussions include the rights of women, free speech and the nature of the country’s constitution. There is also the issue of what post-war role the Taliban would play in the country. The country is home to tens of thousands of Taliban fighters, as well as multiple groups of heavily armed and well-financed militia groups that operate in some areas where the Taliban were driven out.
All of these issues will come to a head in any negotiated peace deal.