Enduring Peace and Stability: Pakistan Set Stage for US, Taliban Accord on Feb 29

DESPARDES — The United States has ceased offensive military operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban in accordance with an agreement to reduce violence ahead of a possible peace deal, the top U.S. military commander in Kabul announced Saturday.

The week-long reduction in violence is a precondition to a U.S.-Taliban peace deal that both parties have said they plan to sign at the end of the month.

The two sides will sign the agreement on February 29, in the presence of Pakistani representatives and international observers.

“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 on … 29th of February 2020,” the Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also announced that the US is preparing to sign the deal with the Taliban on Feb 29. “Upon a successful implementation of this [reduction is violence] understanding, signing of the US-Taliban agreement is expected to move forward,” he said in a statement.

The announcements cap 18 months of grueling talks between Taliban negotiation team, and the Zalmay Khalilzad-led American negotiators in Doha, Qatar.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Saturday highlighted the pivotal role played by Pakistan in hammering out the peace deal which if goes through would end the 18-year-long war in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of people have died in arguably the longest, deadliest and costliest war in US history.

It is expected that the Taliban, the US troops, and the Afghan forces would scale down violence. “The reduction in violence will start from 22 February and will last for one week,” National Security Council spokesperson Javed Faisal told AFP.

The Taliban spokesperson said the two sides would also make arrangements for prisoners’ swap, chalk out modalities of intra-Afghan negotiations, and lay the groundwork for peace across the country with the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan.

Zabihullah reaffirmed the Taliban’s commitment that the Afghan soil would not be used against the security of others “so that our people can live a peaceful and prosperous life under the shade of an Islamic system”.

“After February, we will try to build a delegation to promote intra-Afghan peace process and we have also decided when and how those talks will take place, said Qureshi. “Pakistan has played its role in the peace process with wholeheartedness and honesty and it is now incumbent upon the Afghan government to do the same.”

Qureshi said, “It was not easy to bring the Taliban to the table for negotiations, which is why the entire world, including the US, is appreciating Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace process”.

“We constructed a roadmap to peace”, he added.

Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa said gains made by Pakistan during the past two decades on war on terror will be consolidated to achieve enduring peace and stability for the country and the wider region.