The February 29 deal, signed to bring peace to war-torn Afghanistan, is in a very real danger of unravelling. Misgivings between the factions involved, a mini power struggle in Kabul and the desperation of the US could prove to be the undoing of the deal. Washington has had a frustrating week where it has been forced to have sit-downs with squabbling factions in the mess that has become Afghanistan, even as it struggles to get a foothold against the coronavirus at home. Kabul, which is being fought over by two men, each claiming to have been elected as president, keeps trying to show its indignation at being left out of the entire deal by dragging its feet on meeting the terms. Key among them is the release of prisoners from the respective sides.
Pressure from Washington, though, seems to have worked after 300 ‘Taliban’ prisons were finally released. The Taliban reciprocated by releasing 20. But the goodwill gesture has failed to stop the violence which threatens to derail the process. An alleged Taliban attack left nine Afghan security forces dead in Logar province — an apparent response to what the Taliban claimed were attacks on the homes of their fighters. The US dispatched Zalmay Khalilzad and General Scott Miller to get everyone to adhere to the deal. Pakistan, which is watching with concern at how things are shaping up in Afghanistan, reaffirmed to Khalilzad a “commitment to act to advance a political settlement” the Afghan conflict. Islamabad wants this conflict to end as much, if not more than Washington. Lighting the fuse to this powder keg is not in its favour but then that is not where the true danger lies.
The US seems to hope that Pakistan can somehow convince the Taliban to halt the attacks without realising that the Taliban today have coalesced behind the deal. It is imperative now that Washington adapt accordingly to not only approach the militants but also the politicians squabbling over Kabul.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2020.
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