KABUL: A seven-day period of a “reduction in violence” in Afghanistan, a key condition by the US to sign a peace deal with the Taliban, will start at midnight Afghan time, a government spokesman confirmed on Friday.
The reduction in violence, which is not a cease-fire, follows months of talks between the US and the armed group to sign an agreement that would pave the way for an intra-Afghan dialogue and initiate the departure of US troops from the country.
“It begins on Saturday at 12 a.m., 22nd of February,” National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal told reporters. “We are hoping that the other side (the Taliban) will reduce violence as per the commitments. Required and necessary guidance has been given to Afghan forces in this regard,” he added, but gave no further details.
Interior Minister Masood Andarabi earlier this week spelled out parts of the plan. “The Taliban have committed to preventing (not conducting) suicide attacks, blasts and rocket strikes during this period and will observe a significant reduction of violence,” he said.
The NATO-led Resolute Support Mission will also hold back on its operations but will back Afghan forces if they are attacked, according to two security sources unauthorized to talk to the media. A US-Afghan monitoring team will observe Taliban activity during the period.
Presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said on Thursday that President Ashraf Ghani discussed issues related to the Afghan peace deal and details of the “significant reduction in violence” with Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief US negotiator, who has been in Kabul for the past two days. But Ghani has been excluded from talks because the Taliban sees his administration as a “puppet” of the West.
Hours after the violence reduction announcement by Faisal, the Taliban said in a statement that it would sign the peace deal with Washington on Feb. 29.
“Following lengthy negotiations between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the United States of America, both parties agreed to sign the finalized accord in the presence of international observers on the 5th of Rajab Al-Murajab 1441 (Hijri Lunar) corresponding with the 10th of Hoot 1398 (Hijri Solar) and 29th of February 2019 (Gregorian),” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman.
The Feb. 29 date was also cited by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “We are preparing for the signing to take place on February 29,” he said. “Intra-Afghan negotiations will start soon thereafter.”
The violence reduction plan and push for signing the deal comes days after Ghani was officially declared the winner of last year’s disputed presidential polls.
The declaration resulted in further political turmoil, with Ghani’s archrival Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah blasting the result and threatening to form his own government.
Ghani and Abdullah have been at loggerheads ever since they first assumed power in a joint national unity government formed through a US-brokered deal following the disputed 2014 election.