Chaotic week after US-Taleban deal leaves Afghans’ fate unclear

ISLAMABAD (AFP) – A United States (US)-Taleban deal that was supposed to kickstart peace talks between the insurgents and the Kabul government is looking flimsier by the day, with fighting raging across Afghanistan and no one sure about what comes next.

The loosely worded, four-page agreement signed February 29 in Doha was meant to set the conditions for a complete withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan within just 14 months – and end the longest war in US history. But within days of the ink drying on the deal, blood again was flowing across Afghanistan, with the Taleban striking scores of Afghan military targets and militant gunmen killing dozens in a Kabul attack.

US President Donald Trump on Friday even acknowledged that the Taleban could seize power after foreign forces leave – a far cry from the reassuring messaging American officials pushed in the months leading up to the accord.

The biggest sticking point so far seems to be the deal itself, which is vaguely worded and open to different interpretations.

For instance, the agreement states the Afghan government “will” release up to 5,000 Taleban prisoners before Tuesday, when peace talks between Kabul and the insurgents are supposed to start in Oslo. Trouble is, the Afghan government is not a signatory to the deal, and a joint declaration between President Ashraf Ghani’s administration and the US calls only on Kabul to determine the “feasibility” of a mass prisoner release.

Ghani said Saturday his government was willing to free the Taleban prisoners – but only if they do not return to violence.

He did not however say if a release was possible before March 10, essentially throwing the talks into limbo.