A temporary truce between the US and the Taliban has taken effect in Afghanistan, amid hopes that the 18-year war could be close to an end.
If it is successful, the week-long “reduction in violence” will be followed by the signing of a peace accord in Qatar on 29 February.
It could see a phased withdrawal of foreign troops from the country over 18 months and a Taliban promise not to let terrorist groups operate in Afghanistan.
The US and its allies, including Britain, went into Afghanistan after 11 September 2001, in response to attacks ordered by Osama bin Laden which killed almost 3,000 people on American soil.
Image: Donald Trump has promised to stop ‘endless wars’
More than 400 British forces personnel were killed in the Afghanistan war, alongside thousands of other troops from around the world.
In January the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said that since 2009, nearly 34,000 Afghan civilians had been killed, with tens of thousands more injured.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the talks would “build on this fundamental step to deliver a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire and the future political road map for Afghanistan”.
More from Afghanistan
The Taliban said they want Afghans to “live a peaceful and prosperous life under the shade of an Islamic system”.
But the reality might not be so straightforward.
‘A ceasefire is not possible in Afghanistan’
Some Taliban members and other terrorist groups have shown no interest in peace and any violence from them could end – or at least suspend – chances for a deal.
Image: The Taliban has denounced the re-election of Afghan president Ashraf Ghani
Also, it is not clear who should represent the Afghan government in any peace talks. Ashraf Ghani was recently declared the winner of September’s national election but by an extremely narrow margin.
The Taliban denounced the results and has refused to negotiate with his government.
The deal calls for the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners.
Most of them are being held by the Afghan government and, while the US has discussed the release, Mr Ghani has not confirmed it will happen.
It is also not clear how many of America’s 12,000-or-so troops would leave Afghanistan.
Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha, tweeted that, “based on the agreement with the US, all international forces will leave Afghanistan and the invasion will end and no one will be allowed to use Afghan soil against others”.
Image: US defence secretary Mark Esper said the US contingent would be reduced to about 8,600
But defence secretary Mark Esper has previously said the US contingent would be reduced “over time” to about 8,600 – not quite the full withdrawal the Taliban are counting on.
There are also concerns that, as women have not had a voice at the negotiating table, their rights will vanish once again.
Image: What would any peace deal mean for the rights of women?
Before the war, the Taliban banned women from education and work, allowing them to leave their homes only in the company of a male relative.
Heather Barr, acting co-director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter that women had been “fighting for years with little success for a voice in peace negotiations”.
Responding to an opinion piece written by the Taliban’s deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, she said: “The Taliban interpretation of Islam is pretty different to most peoples’. The group’s actions on the ground on women’s rights have moderated some – in response to community pressures and a desire to win support – but they are still extremely abusive.
“The solution to this problem is not to call off the deal. After all, no one has an alternative and any chance at peace is desperately worth pursuing. But women’s rights are at stake in this deal, and it will be a struggle every step of the way to protect them.”
Mr Haqqani had said, in an article published in the New York Times on Thursday, that the post-peace path of any Afghan government would depend “on a consensus of Afghans”.
Source : Sky News