US and Taliban sign historic troop withdrawal deal in Doha
DOHA: The United States and the Taliban have signed an agreement for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan during a historic ceremony in the Qatari capital of Doha.
The agreement was signed between US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
Addressing the historic event, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington will closely watch the Taliban compliance to the agreement to be signed between the two parties.
He said the Taliban have shown that they have the will to be peaceful during the recent ‘reduction in violence’ period.
He added that the agreement will mean nothing “if concrete actions are not taken on commitments and promises”.
Pompeo called on the Taliban to keep their promise to cut ties with Al Qaeda and keep fighting the militant Islamic State group.
Representatives from fifty countries, foreign ministers of different countries including Pakistan’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi, attended the signing ceremony of the agreement.
Pakistan, which neighbours Afghanistan, and has been a long-time ally in America’s war on terror, played a critical role in bringing the two sides to the negotiation table.
Khalilzad has on multiple occasions appreciated and thanked Pakistan for its constructive role in the peace process.
More than 18 years since President George W. Bush ordered bombing in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks, the agreement will set the stage for the withdrawal of US troops, some of whom were not yet born when the World Trade Centre collapsed on that crisp, sunny morning that changed how Americans see the world.
Saturday’s ceremony also signals the potential end of a tremendous investment of blood and treasure. The US spent more than $750 billion, and on all sides the war cost tens of thousands of lives lost, permanently scarred and indelibly interrupted. Yet it’s also a conflict that is frequently ignored by US politicians and the American public.
Trump says agreement will illuminate ‘a powerful path forward’
A statement from US President Trump on Friday said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will “witness” the signing of the agreement, leaving unclear if he will personally sign it on behalf of the United States, or if he will shake hands with Taliban representatives.
US troops are to be withdrawn to 8,600 from about 13,000 in the weeks following Saturday’s signing. Further drawdowns are to depend on the Taliban meeting certain counter-terrorism conditions, compliance that will be assessed by the United States. But officials say soldiers will be coming home.
Trump, as he seeks re-election this year, is looking to make good on his campaign promise to bring troops home from the Middle East. Still, he has approached the Taliban agreement cautiously, steering clear of the crowing surrounding other major foreign policy actions, such as his talks with North Korea.
In a statement released by the White House, Trump said on Friday that if the Taliban and Afghan governments live up to the commitments in the agreement, “we will have a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home,”
“These commitments represent an important step to a lasting peace in a new Afghanistan, free from al-Qaida, ISIS and any other terrorist group that would seek to bring us harm,” Trump said.
Under the agreement, the Taliban promise not to let extremists use the country as a staging ground for attacking the US or its allies. But US officials are loath to trust the Taliban to fulfil their obligations.
Naysayers in the US
The signing will likely be an uncomfortable appearance for Pompeo, who privately told a conference of US ambassadors at the State Department this week that he was going only because Trump had insisted on his participation, according to two people present. Pompeo also did not mention the Afghan agreement as he touted Trump administration foreign policy achievements in a speech to a conservative group on Friday. He has expressed doubts about the prospects. Yet, he will give his imprimatur to an agreement which he also has said represents “a historic opportunity for peace” after years and pain and suffering.
Taliban orders halt to attacks in Afghanistan ahead of US agreement
Earlier in the day, the Taliban ordered all its fighters “to refrain from any kind of attack” on Saturday ahead of the signing of an agreement with the US diplomats aimed at bringing peace to Afghanistan.
“Today all the Taliban fighters are ordered to refrain from any kind of attack … for the happiness of the nation,” Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the Taliban told Reuters.
“The biggest thing is that we hope the US remain committed to their promises during the negotiation and peace deal,” he said, adding that foreign forces’ aircraft were flying over Taliban territory which was “irritating and provocative.”
US aims to withdraw all forces ‘within 14 months’: US-Afghan declaration
The United States and its allies will withdraw all their forces from Afghanistan within 14 months if the Taliban abide by an agreement due to be signed in Doha on Saturday, Washington and Kabul said in a joint statement.
After an initial reduction of troops to 8,600 within 135 days of Saturday’s signing, the US and its partners “will complete the withdrawal of their remaining forces from Afghanistan within 14 months… and will withdraw all their forces from remaining bases”, the declaration stated.
The Doha accord would see thousands of American troops quit Afghanistan in a phased plan after more than 18 years in return for various security commitments from the insurgents and a pledge to hold talks with the government in Kabul.
US, Taliban to swap prisoners ahead of intra-Afghan talks
The US and the Taliban agreed to swap thousands of prisoners in a “confidence building measure” as part of a landmark deal on Afghanistan’s future signed in Doha on Saturday.
“Up to 5,000 prisoners of the (Taliban)… and 1,000 prisoners of the other side (Afghan forces) will be released by March 10,” the deal said.
Dialogue between the Kabul government and the Taliban is due to begin by that date. – Agencies