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World

Was Afghan Cease-Fire A Sign Of Hope?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There are signs of hope, maybe even some change in Afghanistan. The Taliban and the Afghan government both briefly took part in cease-fires. There were these photos circulating online of Taliban fighters and Afghan tribal elders coming together to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Gestures like these were giving Afghans a rare excuse for optimism in this long war. But the Taliban rejected the idea of an extension of the cease-fire. So what good did all of it do, if any? Candace Rondeaux is a security analyst for New America and has advised the U.S. inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, and she's in our studios this morning.

Hi, Candace.

CANDACE RONDEAUX: Hey. Good morning.

MARTIN: Thanks for coming in. The Afghan government with support of the U.S. is still holding to a kind of cease-fire, but the Taliban is not, so what good did it all do?

RONDEAUX: Well, I think the first thing that we have to note here is that it gave the Afghan people a chance to imagine peace. For the first time in 50 years, we really had a moment where there was a cessation of violence that was distinct. It was remarkable in so much as you had people crossing lines, returning to their villages for the first time for many in years, police hugging Taliban - I mean, really remarkable as a sort of sense of optimism. Obviously, though, of course, what looms large ahead is - are the elections in October. That will, of course, place a lot of pressure on both sides - on the Taliban to prove that they still have the means to exert pressure in places like Kabul and other big cities, and I think for the Afghan government, that they also have the ability to balance this election process against that pressure.

MARTIN: We spoke with the current commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, just a couple of weeks ago. And he echoed some of what you're saying, that this cease-fire was something that he had never seen before. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

JOHN NICHOLSON: We've had in the last several months spontaneous, grass-roots, nonaligned peace activists around the country staging events in favor of peace. And this has occurred in over half the country, so this is something new and important.

MARTIN: So not just this three-day cease-fire, but also, he's describing this grass-roots peace movement. Is that - have you seen evidence of that?

RONDEAUX: Absolutely. It's very real. It's been going on for months. It started in the South in response to the bombing of a mosque, actually, in Helmand, and it started to really gain momentum as the bombings continued across the country. You know, the Afghan people are in an incredible amount of pain. I think what was interesting about seeing this movement evolve was that first, women, interestingly, were the first to step forward and say, stop killing our sons, our husbands, our brothers; please find a way to cease this violence, which is enormously remarkable in the sense that they got out there physically and made themselves vulnerable in ways that we've never seen before. And it's across the country now, and it really started to pick up. And I think what this says is that there's an enormous appetite in Afghanistan for change that, you know, is not mediated by the Taliban, that is not mediated by the U.S. or the Afghan government, that it is simply driven by the people.

MARTIN: There is going to be a new commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. President Trump has nominated Lieutenant General Austin Miller. He spoke to the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing on his nomination yesterday. I want to play a little bit of his testimony.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AUSTIN MILLER: Anything that lowers the violence for any period of time is a positive. There's goodness that comes out of there. It means people are talking. This campaign will not be resolved by military means alone. Even as we disrupt the threats to our nation, there has to be a political component, a political realignment that takes place here.

MARTIN: But Candace, you know, as well as I do, that U.S. military commanders have been saying that exact same thing in Afghanistan for almost 20 years now. Is this moment different? I mean, what is - besides people in the streets, which is no small thing - I mean, we've been talking about peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government for a long time.

RONDEAUX: This moment is different for a number of different reasons. It's different because you had a concerted effort on the part of the United States, on the part of the Taliban, on the part of the Afghan government. Potentially, even, you can see probably some influence of regional stakeholders withholding on some level. This took months to organize. This was not something - a flash in the pan - that happened overnight. Anybody who kind of has the sense that this cease-fire was something that was sort of a one-off, you know, that sort of happened by circumstance is probably a little bit misguided. So it's really - it's very significant, actually.

MARTIN: Candace Rondeaux, security adviser with New America. Thanks for coming in.

RONDEAUX: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.