Clues of peace in Afghanistan

A declared cease-fire by each side, a peace march, and other steps hint that both the Taliban and the government are reacting to a new public mood for a political settlement.

AP Photo
Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani (pictured) and the Taliban have each announced a cease-fire related to the holy month of Ramadan.

After decades of conflict and costly foreign intervention, Afghanistan has a new chance for peace. Both the government and the Taliban have declared unilateral cease-fires to mark the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The temporary halt in fighting is only for three days, June 15-18. Yet if it holds, it will be the most extensive halt to offensive operations since the United States invaded the country in 2001 in response to the 9/11 bombings by Al Qaeda.

Any path to peace remains difficult. But even a brief cease-fire may signal momentum toward a negotiated solution. Crucial to any prospects for peace will be a dialogue between the militant Islamic Taliban and the elected president, Ashraf Ghani, and his team about issues of governance and power sharing.

Fighting in Afghanistan has been intense over the past year, but the logic of a negotiated solution has gained support inside and outside the country. Evidence is growing that the Afghan people strongly desire an end to the fighting. A small group of “peace marchers,” for example, is walking 300 miles from Kandahar to Kabul – while respecting the Ramadan practices of daytime fasting – in order to signal their “thirst for peace,” as one participant told the press. And shortly before the government’s cease-fire announcement, a group of Afghan clerics called for a cease-fire and talks.

If there is a real opening in these events, it will remain fragile and needs to be encouraged. Both sides put caveats on their cease-fires. The government did not include a cease-fire with the more radical Islamic State or Al Qaeda groups operating in the country. The Taliban said its cease-fire is only with the “domestic opposition” and not “foreign occupiers” (US and NATO forces). Most observers expect the Taliban’s “fighting season” to continue after the three days. 

Yet the fact that both parties made this gesture is significant as it signals they each realize the only way out is a political settlement. For its part, the Trump administration set a goal last year of a negotiated solution. To get there, it is working to strengthen the Afghan military and the government’s services to the people, as well as increase pressure on Pakistan to cut its support for the Taliban.  

The US moves have given a boost to the Afghan government, notably to the reformers in its ranks. Indeed, younger Afghans educated since 2001, including women, are taking leading roles in Kabul. 

While the government still rules over most of the population, the Taliban controls or threatens large swaths of the country. Human rights organizations underscore the rising toll of fighting on civilians. Other observers argue more positively that recent events have reinforced a perception that a military victory is not possible for either side, a view that has strengthened public sentiment to find a way to peace.

Both the Taliban and President Ghani may have sensed this shift. Indeed, one of the peace marchers told reporters that a group of Taliban fighters approached them at one point to offer their support for the march and for ending the fighting.

The next big threshold is to bring the parties together. The Taliban insists they will only negotiate with the US and only about withdrawing US forces. The Afghan government and its foreign allies say talks must be Afghans talking directly to Afghans and that a settlement must preserve important advances, such as rights embodied in the Constitution. A new generation of Afghans is now used to a more open and progressive environment. Some observers argue that elements of the Taliban also have moderated their views on a future Afghan society.

The mental blocks against peace in Afghanistan may be crumbling. If these latest signs of warming prove real, the next step may be talks through informal channels or perhaps using a third-party mediator. A war-weary Afghanistan deserves a way to a better future.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.