EU calls for Afghanistan ceasefire

Kabul: European Union officials called Sunday for a ceasefire in Afghanistan, saying the breakdown in talks between the US and the Taliban presented an opportunity to push anew for a truce.

US President Donald Trump last month declared talks with the insurgents “dead”, citing a Taliban attack that killed a US soldier.

Negotiations had been in the final stages for a deal that would have seen the US pull troops from Afghanistan after 18 years in return for various Taliban guarantees.

But to the dismay of many Afghans and international observers, the deal included no immediate, comprehensive ceasefire, rather it would supposedly have paved the way for a reduction in violence and later talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Roland Kobia, the EU special envoy for Afghanistan, said the talks’ collapse provided a chance to push for a ceasefire which would, in turn, prove a large enough change in Afghanistan for Trump to consider resuming negotiations.

“It’s the right moment and the right opportunity to maybe go one step beyond a simple reduction in violence and explore ways in which a ceasefire … will take place,” Kobia told Kabul journalists.

“The idea is really to see how we can move the ceasefire idea forward instead of leaving it for later. … There is an opportunity here today”.

When asked how the EU, which has only a limited footprint in Afghanistan, could leverage a truce, Kobia suggested that the Taliban might return to power in “one form or another” within months so would entertain a truce to help normalise future relations with the European bloc.

“A ceasefire would be a token, a guarantee of goodwill and good preparation for the normalisation of these relationships,” Kobia said.

The Taliban, for its part, has steadfastly ruled out an immediate ceasefire but last year downed weapons for a three-day truce.

– Delayed election results –

Afghanistan is currently in an uneasy waiting period following the first round of presidential elections on September 28.

Results were supposed to be released Saturday but have been indefinitely delayed due to “technical issues”, the Independent Election Commission said.

Pierre Mayaudon, head of the EU delegation in Afghanistan, said a delay of a few days to finalise results was legitimate to ensure votes were fairly counted.

“But not many more days that again will go into weeks and will possibly raise the perception that something is happening,” he told reporters.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper meanwhile arrived in Kabul on Sunday on an unannounced visit.

According to Fawad Aman, a spokesman for the Afghan defence ministry, Esper was due to meet with “key leaders and receive an operational update”.

US Forces-Afghanistan, headquartered in Kabul, did not immediately return a request for comment on Esper’s visit.

Since Trump ended talks with the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy leading negotiations, has spoken informally with insurgents in Pakistan, raising the possibility the US is seeking to resume discussions.

In the mean time, violence in Afghanistan continues unabated. On Friday, at least 70 people were killed when a mosque in Nangarhar province was bombed.