–Week-long Afghanistan ‘reduction in violence’ to start on Saturday
–Pakistan welcomes announcement regarding signing of peace deal
KABUL: A week-long “reduction in violence” between the Taliban, the US, and Afghan security forces will commence shortly, an official said on Friday, ahead of the signing of a possible deal between Washington and the insurgents on Feb 29.
If the partial truce goes ahead, it would mark a historic step in more than 18 years of grueling conflict in Afghanistan and would pave the way for a deal that could, ultimately, see the war end.
“The reduction in violence will start from 22 February and will last for one week,” Afghanistan’s National Security Council spokesman Javed Faisal told AFP.
US Forces-Afghanistan declined to comment. One Taliban source in Pakistan confirmed to AFP the partial truce would commence on Saturday.
The United States has been in talks with the Taliban for more than a year to secure a deal in which it would pull out thousands of troops in return for Taliban security guarantees and commitments.
A reduction in violence would show the Taliban can control their forces and demonstrate good faith ahead of any signing, which would see the Pentagon withdraw about half of the 12,000-13,000 troops currently in Afghanistan.
Afghan officials have said the US-Taliban deal will be finalised on February 29 in Doha, assuming the reduction in violence proceeds to plan.
The Taliban source in Pakistan said “both sides have agreed to sign the agreement on February 29”, adding that talks between the Taliban and the government, needed to cement a broader peace deal, are slated to start March 10.
PAKISTAN WELCOMES DEAL:
Meanwhile, Pakistan has welcomed the announcement regarding the signing of a possible deal between the United States and Afghan Taliban, the Foreign Office said.
It said Islamabad “look[s] forward to the signing of the agreement”.
“Pakistan has consistently supported direct negotiations between the US and Taliban. From the outset, Pakistan has facilitated this process and contributed to its progress thus far,” read the FO statement.
“We believe the signing of the US-Taliban agreement will pave the way for the next step of intra-Afghan negotiations,” it added, saying Pakistan hopes Afghan parties will now “seize this historic opportunity” and work out a comprehensive and inclusive political settlement for durable peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region.
“Pakistan reaffirms its support for a peaceful, stable, united, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan, at peace with itself and with its neighbours.”
In Afghanistan’s southern province of Kandahar, which is seen as the Taliban’s heartland, one insurgent told AFP he had received orders to stand down.
“We have got the orders from our leadership that reduction in violence period will start from Saturday, and we have been ordered to be ready for it,” the source said.
The US and the Taliban have been tantalisingly close to a deal before, only to see President Donald Trump nix it in September of last year at the 11th hour amid continued insurgent violence.
Any truce comes fraught with danger, and analysts warn the attempt to stem Afghanistan’s bloodshed is laced with complications and could fail at any time.
Or, worse still, they say warring parties could exploit a lull to reconfigure their forces and secure a battlefield advantage.
On Thursday, the deputy leader of the Taliban said the insurgents are “fully committed” to a deal with Washington.
“That we stuck with such turbulent talks with the enemy we have fought bitterly for two decades, even as death rained from the sky, testifies to our commitment to ending the hostilities and bringing peace to our country,” Sirajuddin Haqqani wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times.
Haqqani is also head of the Haqqani network, a US-designated terror group that is one of the most dangerous factions fighting Afghan and US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.