US, Taliban plan to sign deal on Feb 29 after week-long violence reduction
KABUL/WASHINGTON/PESHAWAR: The United States and the Taliban will sign an agreement on Feb. 29 at the end of a week-long period of violence reduction in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Taliban said on Friday.
The agreement could represent a chance for peace after 18 years of war and a U.S. troop presence that dates back to 2001, as well as boosting U.S. President Donald Trump’s hopes of pulling U.S. forces out of Afghanistan.
However, past attempts at negotiating peace agreements have been scuttled by Taliban attacks on international forces.
The reduced violence period, to be observed by Afghan, international and Taliban forces, will begin at midnight (1930 GMT), an Afghan official and Taliban leaders said.
“Following lengthy negotiations between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the United States of America, both parties agreed to sign the finalised accord in the presence of international observers,” a Taliban spokesman said in a statement.
Both sides would also make arrangements for the release of prisoners, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
Separately, Pompeo said in a statement that the United States and the Taliban have been engaged in talks to facilitate a political settlement in Afghanistan and to reduce the U.S. presence in the region.
The agreement will be signed upon the successful implementation of an understanding with the Taliban on a significant and nationwide reduction in violence, Pompeo added.
The agreement will be signed in Doha between Taliban representatives and U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been leading the United States’ negotiation team, a senior State Department official told Reuters.
Trump, who has vowed to stop “endless wars” as he seeks re-election in November, has long sought to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
NATO, which currently has 16,000 troops in Afghanistan, welcomed Friday’s announcement, calling the reduced violence period a critical test of the Taliban’s willingness to contribute to peace.
The period could pave the way for sustainable peace and negotiations among Afghans, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.
U.S. and Taliban negotiators have been meeting in Doha since 2018 even though fighting has raged in Afghanistan and thousands of civilians and combatants have been killed as the insurgents have expanded territory under their control.
“Based on the plan, the reduction in violence (RIV) will start between the Taliban and international and Afghan security forces for one week,” Javid Faisal, spokesperson for the Afghan National Security Advisor, told Reuters.
“We hope it is extended for a longer time and opens the way for a ceasefire and intra-Afghan talks,” he added.
The Taliban have previously refused to speak directly to the Kabul government, which they denounce as a U.S. puppet.
Three senior Taliban leaders – two in Doha and one in Afghanistan – also confirmed to Reuters that a seven-day reduction of violence period would start Friday night. All three spoke on condition of anonymity.
One Taliban leader based in Doha told Reuters that the period could not be called a “ceasefire.”
“Every party has the right of self defense but there would no attacks on each other’s positions in these seven days,” the Taliban leader said.
“It is to create a security environment in Afghanistan and can be extended if things go well after signing of a peace accord with the U.S.,” he added.
Afghan forces will keep up normal military operations against other groups such as Islamic State, during the RIV period, Afghan spokesman Faisal said.
He added that Afghan forces will also retaliate against the smallest violation of the understanding by the Taliban. – Reuters