Published: Sat, February 22, 2020
Global News | By Blake Casey

Afghanistan: Week-long 'reduction in violence' to start Saturday

Afghanistan: Week-long 'reduction in violence' to start Saturday

A seven-day "reduction in violence" begins Friday in Afghanistan between U.S. troops and the Taliban, a move the BBC notes is meant to lead to a more permanent ceasefire.

The agreement between the US and Taliban, that was almost signed last September, sets the timetable for the American exit from Afghanistan in exchange for Taliban safeguards that the country does not become a hotbed for terrorist groups and beginning talks with Ghani's government.

In September 2018, Zalmay Khalilzad was appointed as the USA special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, and in October of that year he held his first official round of negotiation with the Taliban in Doha.

The U.S. -Taliban agreement has arguably left the two thorniest issues - a permanent cease-fire and a future power-sharing agreement - to be decided in intra-Afghan talks.

If the decrease in violence passes off smoothly, the enemies will sign a deal on February 29, setting up a USA withdrawal and talks between the Taliban and Afghan politicians.

The Taliban have refused a complete ceasefire, but a senior State Department official told AP the agreed lull would begin "tonight", without specifying the exact time.

But that road is fraught with difficulties. Earlier efforts failed because the USA wanted the Afghan government to be part of direct talks with the Taliban while the insurgent group refused to sit with what it claimed was a "puppet" regime without legitimacy.

President Ashraf Ghani on February 18 was finally declared the victor of the vote, but main challenger Abdullah Abdullah - the country's chief executive officer - rejected the outcome, declared himself the victor, and vowed to form a parallel government.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the peace agreement will also lead to an eventual permanent cease-fire.

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However, U.S. President Donald Trump canceled the proposed peace deal with the insurgents at the last minute for the killing of a U.S. soldier in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

Both sides would make arrangements for the release of prisoners, The Taliban said, and "finally lay the groundwork for peace across the country with the withdrawal of all foreign forces".

The Taliban added that it 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". In return, the Afghan forces and the USA military, which has carried out extensive airstrikes in support of the Afghan forces in recent months, have agreed to hold back their operations and airstrikes.

One of President Donald Trump's campaign promises was the reduction of troops in global arenas.

The US 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.

The reduced violence period, to be observed by Afghan, global and Taliban forces, began Saturday at 12:00 a.m. local time, and was previously announced by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in a televised address. "The process of violence reduction starts on February 22 and it is expected to last for seven days if everything goes according to plan", said Javid Faisal, the spokesman for Afghanistan's national security council. USA troops have been in Afghanistan since 2001. Pakistan still hosts more than 1.4 million Afghan refugees.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the developments as "a critical test of the Taliban's willingness and ability to reduce violence, and contribute to peace in good faith".

"That we today stand at the threshold of a peace agreement with the United States is no small milestone", Haqqani wrote. "This could pave the way for negotiations among Afghans, sustainable peace, and ensuring the country is never again a safe haven for terrorists".

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