The Taliban’s ruling council agreed Sunday to a temporary ceasefire in Afghanistan, providing a window in which a peace agreement with the United States can be signed, officials from the insurgent group said. They didn’t say when it would begin.
A cease-fire had been demanded by Washington before any peace agreement could be signed. A peace deal would allow the U.S. to bring home its troops from Afghanistan and end its 18-year military engagement there, America’s longest.
There was no immediate response from Washington.The U.S. wants any deal to include a promise from the Taliban that Afghanistan would not be used as a base by terrorist groups. The U.S. currently has an estimated 12,000 troops in Afghanistan.
The Taliban chief must approve the ceasefire decision but that was expected. The duration of the cease-fire was not specified but it was suggested it would last for 10 days. It was also not specified when the ceasefire would begin.
Four members of the Taliban negotiating team met for a week with the ruling council before they agreed on the brief ceasefire. The negotiating team returned Sunday to Qatar where the Taliban maintain their political office and where U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been holding peace talks with the religious militia since September 2018.
Talks were suspended in September when both sides seemed on the verge of signing a peace pact. However, a surge in violence in the capital Kabul killed a U.S. soldier, prompting President Donald Trump to declare the deal “dead.” Talks resumed after Trump made a surprise visit to Afghanistan at the end of November announcing the Taliban were ready to talk and agree to a reduction in violence.
Khalilzad returned to Doha at the beginning of December. It was then that he proposed a temporary halt to hostilities to pave the way to an agreement being signed, according to Taliban officials.
Taliban officials familiar with the negotiations spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media outlets.
A key pillar of the agreement, which the U.S. and Taliban have been hammering out for more than a year, is direct negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the conflict.
Those intra-Afghan talks were expected to be held within two weeks of the signing of a U.S.-Taliban peace deal. They will decide what a post-war Afghanistan will look like.
The first item on the agenda is expected to address how to implement a ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s National Security Forces. The negotiations, however, were expected to be prickly and will cover a variety of thorny issues, including rights of women, free speech, and changes to the country’s constitution.
Source: New York Post