The end of 18 years of war in Afghanistan could be in sight as the countdown to signing a peace agreement between the Taliban and the United States will begin on Friday.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and the Taliban said seven days of a “reduction of violence” will start at midnight (7.30pm GMT).
After that, a peace agreement between the warring sides will be signed on 29 February in Doha, Qatar, he said.
Image: An estimated 2.4m people Afghan refugees are living in a camp in Peshawar, Pakistan, as a result of the war
Mr Pompeo said the peace agreement will lead to an eventual permanent ceasefire but only if there is a significant and nationwide reduction in violence.
The deal will include guarantees from the Taliban that Afghanistan will not be used to attack the US or its allies.
It also provides details for the phased withdrawal of America’s 12,000 troops and other foreign forces from Afghanistan over 18 months.
“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,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
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He said both sides would make arrangements for the release of prisoners, including 5,000 Taliban members who are mostly being held in Afghan government jails.
However, Kabul has made no public announcement about the release.
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After nearly two decades of war the path to peace will not be an easy one, and President Donald Trump’s reputation is heavily on the line.
Mr Pompeo said: “The only way to achieve a sustainable peace in Afghanistan is for Afghans to come together and agree on the way forward.”
This may prove more difficult as the Taliban has refused to talk to Afghan president Ashraf Ghani’s government after he was declared the winner earlier this week of September’s election.
His rivals and the Taliban quickly denounced his re-election despite the government being considered key to finding lasting peace in the country.
Image: Nato has soldiers in Afghanistan supporting US troops
Germany and Norway have both offered to host the intra-Afghan talks, but no venue has yet been set.
The seven-day “reduction of violence” covers all of Afghanistan and also applies to Afghan forces, as well as the US and the Taliban.
They have all committed to end attacks for that period, which for the Taliban includes roadside bombings, suicide attacks and rocket strikes.
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US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has led the negotiations with the Taliban since September 2018 and has been key to the latest developments.
Mr Trump made removing US troops from Afghanistan a central tenet of his 2016 presidential campaign so if a peace deal is signed he can claim to have made good on his promise.
Image: The Taliban has denounced the re-election of Afghan president Ashraf Ghani
However, if it fails, Mr Trump risks being branded naive by Democrats, and willing to sacrifice the security of US soldiers for the sake of getting his pledge done and dusted.
The Pentagon would not say whether the US had agreed to cut the number of troops in Afghanistan to zero, however the Taliban’s spokesman said it expects a complete withdrawal.
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said it was a “critical test of the Taliban’s willingness and ability to reduce violence, and contribute to peace in good faith”.
Source : Sky News