Wednesday, 19 February, 2020

Afghan President Ghani cites ‘notable progress’ in US-Taliban talks

Taliban issue ultimatum to US on offer for brief ceasefire or talks will end Taliban issue ultimatum to US on offer for brief ceasefire or talks will end
Deanna Wagner | 14 February, 2020, 19:25

The New York Times reported that an Afghan official briefed on Pompeo's call to Afghan government officials revealed that US President Donald Trump had granted "tentative approval" to signing a peace agreement if the Taliban commit to a reduction of violence during the seven-day period.

The US and the Taliban appeared closer on Wednesday to a breakthrough in talks over an American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, after the country's President Ashraf Ghani said there had been "notable progress" in negotiations.

"The Secretary informed me about the Taliban's proposal with regards to bringing a significant and enduring reduction in violence", the president added.

Afghans dwelling in a Pakistani refugee camp have been sceptical any deal may lead to actual peace, with one, 60-year-old Hazrat Hussain, warning {that a} USA withdrawal might see the nation plunge into civil conflict - because it did after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union in 1989.

A USA troop withdrawal pact would be followed by talks between the Taliban and an Afghan delegation that included government officials on a settlement to decades of war, US officials have said.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation chief Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday welcomed apparent progress towards a US-Taliban deal in Afghanistan but warned the militants must reduce attacks.

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A former senior Afghan official said on condition of anonymity that Ghani would discuss the negotiations with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later this week on the sidelines of an annual security conference in Munich, Germany.

The officials caution there is deep skepticism on whether the plan is feasible given the Taliban negotiators can not guarantee all Taliban fighters across Afghanistan would abide by the terms. Once it was over, a more formal US-Taliban agreement could be signed within days. "We have contributed a tremendous amount of blood and treasure to Afghanistan, but it's time for America to come home", O'Brien also said.

A Taliban source in Pakistan told AFP that negotiators would meet again Wednesday in Doha, while in Afghanistan another senior Taliban official suggested the group was poised to reduce attacks.

The draft agreed to at the time included Taliban cooperation in fighting against terrorist groups in Afghanistan, such as the Islamic State, as well as USA withdrawal and inter-Afghan talks, with a nationwide cease-fire at the top of the agenda. That would be followed, within 10 days, by all-Afghan negotiations to set the road map for the political future of a post-war Afghanistan. On Tuesday, February 11, 2020, the United States had said that a resolution to reduce violence in Afghanistan would be reached in a few days.

Doha has been the venue for talks between the warring sides since 2018 even as fighting has continued across the country, killing hundreds of civilians and soldiers as the Taliban have expanded their territorial control. The majority of the victims were Afghan civilians.

USA officials have said the US troop level could drop to about 8,600 this year even if a withdrawal agreement is not reached.