U.S, Taliban Begin Countdown To Afghan Peace Deal

The Taliban promised a seven day “reduction of violence” that began Friday at midnight. This starts the countdown to the signing of a peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban on February 29th, which will mark the end of the 18-year long war in Afghanistan. After the period of quasi peace, the agreement between the Taliban and the US will be signed in Doha, Qatar. The Taliban has had a political office in Doha ever since the 2001 invasion that dismantled their regime. This long awaited peace agreement will mark the beginning of a period of change for the region, as U.S troops will initiate the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan and intra-Afghan negotiations will commence. The long term goal is that the peace agreement will eventually lead to a permanent ceasefire. According to the LA Times, this deal also includes provisions that guarantees the Taliban will not use Afghanistan to attack the U.S or its allies. Additionally, the deal lays out plans for the gradual withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan over the next 18 months. 

       U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “We are preparing for the signing to take place on Feb. 29…Intra-Afghan negotiations will start soon thereafter and will build on this fundamental step to deliver a comprehensive and permanent cease-fire and the future political road map for Afghanistan.” This is not an easy task. Pompeo also added, “The only way to achieve a sustainable peace in Afghanistan is for Afghans to come together and agree on the way forward.” The Taliban made a statement on Friday which included, “Both parties will now create a suitable security situation in advance of agreement signing date, extend invitations to senior representatives of numerous countries and organizations to participate in the signing ceremony, make arrangements for the release of prisoners, structure a path for intra-Afghan negotiations with various political parties of the country and finally lay the groundwork for peace across the country with the withdrawal of all foreign forces.” They also said they will not allow “the land of Afghanistan to be used against security of others so that our people can live a peaceful and prosperous life under the shade of an Islamic system.” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called this deal “a critical test of the Taliban’s willingness and ability to reduce violence, and contribute to peace in good faith.”

      This deal has been in the works for some time now and the aspects of the peace agreement seem to set up conditions to create a long term peace. However, the history, war, and long deployment of US troops will not soon be forgotten. A peace deal is not the end of the story, especially dealing with a more volatile entity such as the Taliban. 

     The intra-Afghan peace talks are a critical element to lasting peace. However, as of now, it is not certain who will represent Kabul in these talks. President Ashraf Ghani was announced as the winner of the recent elections in Afghanistan but his rivals quickly denounced this decision. The Taliban also refuses to speak to Ghani as they also do not agree with the outcome of the elections. The Taliban has said that they will speak to government officials but only as ordinary Afghans. The terms of the reduction in violence, a week long period, includes all of Afghanistan and Afghan forces, all sides have agreed to this peace period. This also means the Taliban will not conduct bombings, suicide attacks, and rocket strikes. Furthermore, the peace deal includes the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners, most in Afghan prisons. 

        There are currently around 12,000 US troops in Afghanistan. According to Pentagon officials, during any withdrawal of troops, the US maintains the right to continue counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan, which are focused mainly on the Islamic State groups and Al Qaeda. However, a spokesman from the Taliban recently made it known that the group expected a full withdrawal. The US-led alliance in the country had around 16,000 troops who help to train Afghan security forces but this could be drawn down significantly to accommodate any firm peace agreement.