End of Eid ceasefire: The end of the Eid ceasefire by the Taliban saw the beginning of numerous attacks of varying intensity. The first of these saw the killing of 30 Afghan soldiers and the reported capturing of a Afghan military base in the western province of Badghis on 20th June. What also had high profile was a suicide attack in Jalalabad on 1st July coinciding with President Ghani’s visit to the city. Amongst the 19 fatal casualties were 12 Sikhs and Hindus.
United States- Pakistan: A visiting principal deputy assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs said in Kabul that the Taliban’s failure to engage in talks to end Afghanistan’s nearly 17-year conflict is “unacceptable” and Pakistan must exert more pressure on the militants. The US official was visiting Afghanistan in end June immediately after the end of the Eid ceasefire. She travelled thereafter to Pakistan where a US Embassy statement said that “Ambassador Wells discussed Pakistan’s stated commitment to eliminating all terrorist groups present within its borders”. Meetings in Pakistan included a call on the Chief of Army Staff.
The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Kabul on 9th July. Remarks attributed to him had him stressing the need for neighbouring countries to support Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s efforts to start a dialogue with the Taliban. He also is believed to have said the US not only supported the proposed talks but was also willing to participate but the peace process would be Afghan-led and the US would only participate to help resolve differences and encourage Afghanistan’s neighbours to support the process as well. Remarks attributed include: “We’re counting on all the actors in the region to be supportive. The Pakistanis, too, need to understand that we need to have a set of elections (in Afghanistan) that do not have violence”; “We’re counting on all the actors in the region to support this process and make sure the Afghan people can have their voices heard during these elections”.
Change in US position on Direct Talks with Taliban: The slight shift in emphasis in the US Secretary of State’s remarks above- that the US could participate in an Afghan led process - acquired a further resonance with a number of US news reports over July that the President had ordered diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban in a bid to jump-start negotiations. At the very least this is an indication of the sense of urgency in the administration to break the stalemate in Afghanistan and press reports have spoken about the President’s growing impatience with the lack of progress in Afghanistan. The Eid ceasefire and the pressure on Pakistan are believed to be components of this very strategy.
July 24, 2018