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Editorial: Make-or-break situation

Skirmishes between Taliban fighters and Afghan security forces have recommenced after the three-day Eid-ul-Fitr ceasefire seemingly expired, although not officially. But government officials believe the incidents are minor and the truce could still hold despite fourteen security personnel were killed in a Taliban attack on border police in Paktia – among other reports of violence. This is while the Taliban have so far remained silent on the appeals of the Afghan masses, the international community and the government for an extension of the ceasefire. Seeing as the undeclared ceasefire has blurred the definition of what is tantamount to violence and fighting – with the government seemingly downplaying the situation on the ground – the only good that has come from the truce is the sped-up process of the prisoner swap. Following the release of 1,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for reportedly 80 Afghan soldiers over the past few days, a technical Taliban delegation has arrived in Kabul to hammer out a further release of inmates on both sides with an Afghan government team. Given that the prisoner exchange is a precursor to intra-Afghan peace talks, the current tempo should be maintained. The peace process has arrived at a window of opportunity for the warring parties because there has been somewhat trust rekindled but that is hanging on a loose thread. It’s a make-or-break situation now because the extension in the ceasefire is extremely important to furthering the process while intensified violence is detrimental. Similarly, violence perpetrated by any side now risks agitating the other. Moreover, the dirty handiwork of spoilers of peace – something to look out for – is usually at its peak at such times of progress. On the other hand, another recent development in the Afghan war is the apparent US decision to accelerate its troop drawdown from Afghanistan. Based on the circumstantial cues, US President Donald Trump wants to get his soldiers out of Afghanistan as soon as possible as various media outlets also confirm that the US troop withdrawal is happening faster than expected. If these sources are to be believed, the last American soldier would leave Afghanistan well before the November presidential election in the US, instead of May 2021 as agreed upon in the peace accord with the Taliban. Seeing that as the case, the Afghan government and the Taliban need to reach an intra-Afghan settlement prior to that happening because otherwise, the long, deadly Afghan war will only continue. For that end, the current window of opportunity for a deal among the belligerent parties is workable but is closing fast and thus needs to be grabbed at the earliest.

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