Vehicle bomb kills at least 17 in Afghanistan ahead of ceasefire

The writer is a professor at the Lonestar College in Houston and also a PhD candidate at the University of Houston

Disagreements over a prisoner exchange and the unrest have delayed peace talks between an Afghan government-mandated committee and the Taliban, as envisaged in an agreement signed between the USA and the militant group in Doha in February. In the latest report, SIGAR quotes the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A), an organization formed in 2018 to assist the reform of the Afghan security forces.

Many Afghans are leery about what comes next.

In an Eid speech, Ghani said another 500 prisoners would be released during the festival in a bid to "accelerate the peace talks".

The Taliban and Afghan government have agreed on a three-day ceasefire starting Friday, the first day of Eid.

The Taliban has denied responsibility for the attacks.

The UNAMA has blamed the Taliban for nearly half of civilian casualties during the first half of 2020, with less than one-quarter blamed on Afghan forces.

According to Afghan news outlet Tolo, Yasin Khan, the governor of the southern province of Helman, has pointed to an increasing Al Qaeda footprint in the district along the Durand Line with Pakistan as well as the border pockets between Afghanistan and Iran.

The contentious prisoner swap is a key precondition for the Taliban to enter into peace talks with the government for the first time in their 19-year insurgency and the halt in fighting is only the third official truce in almost the two decades.

The deal also stated the Taliban and the Afghan government should start direct peace talks on March 10, following the completion of the prisoner swap. Helmand has always been a bloody battleground for USA and Afghan troops, and has emerged as a Taliban stronghold.

Nevertheless, a DOD assessment of violence in Afghanistan since the agreement, through June 1, said, "The Taliban is calibrating its use of violence to harass and undermine the ANDSF and [the Afghan government], but remain at a level it perceives is within the bounds of the agreement, probably to encourage a USA troop withdrawal and set favorable conditions for a post-withdrawal Afghanistan". First, the United States has withdrawn troops back down to late Obama-era levels and is reportedly planning for continued downsizing of the USA presence. It's not clear how the potential decision to withdraw additional troops has fared under the present situation. The Afghan government is required to free up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners, and the militant group has to release 1,000 members of the Afghan security forces and others they have detained.

Finally, the Taliban announced last week that they would be ready for talks after the Eid ul Adha holiday at the end of July.

The armed conflict between the government and the Taliban continues.

Ghani had indicated Tuesday that intra-Afghan negotiations with the Taliban were imminent.

Other Afghan military top brass said the Taliban has "changed tactics" in recent weeks, relying on material imports from outside the country to make its own mines and projectiles.



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