The United States and the Afghan Taliban signed a historic agreement on Saturday that should pave the way for lasting peace in Afghanistan and for US troops to be withdrawn from the country. The agreement was signed in the Qatari capital Doha. There were representatives of the US and the Taliban in October 2018 has been negotiating.
The agreement is also intended to make peace talks within Afghanistan possible in order to end the long war in the country. The text stipulates that the United States will initially reduce its troop strength in Afghanistan from around 13,000 to 8,600 over the coming months. In return, the Taliban guarantee to end all cooperation with Islamist terror groups such as the Islamic State or al-Qaeda.
In the presence of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and numerous counterparts and other high-ranking diplomats from around 30 countries, chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad signed on the US side and her political boss Abdul Ghani Baradar for the insurgents. Both shook hands after signing.
In a separate, joint statement by the United States and the Afghan government in Kabul, the first U.S. troop withdrawal of up to 8,600 soldiers was said to take place within 135 days. The US also announced that it would withdraw all its troops and allies from Afghanistan within 14 months if the Taliban adhered to the Doha agreement.
Funding for Afghan forces committed
At the same time, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper made mutual declarations of assistance in the presence of NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. In particular, the United States commit to continue to help fund the Afghan armed forces.
The Kabul government will officially request the US Security Council to lift sanctions against Taliban leaders to start the Kabul-Taliban peace talks. They should start in March. However, the Afghan sides have apparently not yet finally agreed where this should take place.
The Doha Agreement and these declarations are the next diplomatic steps to end the war in Afghanistan that has been raging for over 40 years.
The question of around 5,000 Taliban prisoners in Afghan detention has raised an obstacle that could delay the start of these talks. According to diplomatic sources in Kabul, Khalilzad has promised the Taliban a quick release in exchange for around 1,000 Afghan police officers and soldiers who are holding the Taliban. Obviously that was not discussed with Ghani. He ruled that out because he would hand over an important card in the upcoming negotiation poker too soon.
Hope and skepticism in the country
Meanwhile, hope and skepticism are balanced in Afghanistan. After a seven-day ceasefire, in which the number of incidents fell by 80 percent and there were significantly fewer victims of war than usual, people hope that the fighting will not flare up again. The Taliban have instructed their fighters to stop carrying out attacks on Saturday. There are signs from both US and Taliban circles that the ceasefire should continue.
A journalist from the small town of Moqor south of Kabul told the Eastern Herald: “I didn’t think it would happen at all. But it seems that both sides have a good degree of control over their fighters.”
Mullah Sediq, whom TEH reached by phone in a Taliban-controlled area in the northern province of Takhar, said: “I now hope that this will result in a real ceasefire. My message is: All the brutalities of the war must stop now. “Suma, a student from the eastern province of Nangarhar, raised concerns:” Of course we hope for lasting peace, but we don’t know how much the Taliban feels committed to this goal.”