America set to end the longest war in its history as it signs peace deal with Taliban

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar sign the US-Taliban peace agreement during a ceremony in the Qatari capital Doha on Feb. 29, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 01 March 2020

America set to end the longest war in its history as it signs peace deal with Taliban

  • Under the deal, the Taliban are required to open a dialogue with the Ghani government in Kabul and reject terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda
  • Saudi Arabia welcomed the peace agreement between the US and the Taliban on Saturday

DOHA/KABUL: The US signed a historic peace deal with the Taliban on Saturday that includes a complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and takes a first step toward ending the 18-year conflict — the longest war in US history.

The agreement was signed by US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Taliban’s top negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, after more than a year and a half of talks that excluded President Ashraf Ghani and his government.

Taliban fighter-turned-dealmaker Mullah Baradar signed the accord alongside Washington's chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad, at a gilded desk in a conference room in a luxury Doha hotel.

The pair then shook hands, as people in the room shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest).

Baradar said the deal was a “victory for the Islamic nation” and pledged to abide by the agreement which bars the group from using Afghan soil against any country or against US interests.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and diplomats from more than 20 countries took part as observers at the signing ceremony in Doha. “I know there will be a temptation to declare victory, but victory for Afghans will only be achieved when they can live in peace and prosper,” Pompeo said.

Saudi Arabia welcomed the peace agreement between the US and the Taliban, and hopes it will lead to a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire, the Kingdom's foreign ministry said. 

Under the deal, the US, which has up to 13,000 troops in Afghanistan, will draw that number down to 8,600 within 135 days of the signing.

If the Taliban abide by the accord, the US and their coalition partners “will complete the withdrawal of all remaining forces from Afghanistan” within 14 months, in a “conditions-based” pullback. The Taliban are required to open a dialogue with the Ghani government in Kabul and reject terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda.

The two sides also agreed to swap thousands of prisoners in a “confidence-building measure.”

The agreement represented progress toward lasting peace,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. “We have to be prepared for setbacks, spoilers, there is no easy way to peace, but this is an important first step,” he said in Kabul.

Ghani’s national security adviser, Hamdullah Mobib, said the government “did not agree with all dimensions and points” in the agreement, especially the description of the Taliban as the “Islamic Emirate.”

Ghani said the agreement was based on conditions that the Taliban must meet. “Withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan depends on how much the Taliban fulfill their commitments,” he said.

The Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Hebatullah, described the agreement as a “significant milestone.”

The deal came after nearly a week of reduced violence by the Taliban, which had committed to preventing suicide attacks, rocket fire and bombings — a key US demand ahead of the final agreement on Saturday.

On the eve of the signing, President Donald Trump urged the Afghan people to embrace the chance for a new future.

"If the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan live up to these commitments, we will have a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home," he said.

But the position of the Afghan government, which has been excluded from direct US-Taliban talks, remains unclear and the country is gripped by a fresh political crisis amid contested election results.

The Doha accord was drafted over a tempestuous year of dialogue marked by the abrupt cancellation of the effort by Trump in September.

The signing comes after a week-long, partial truce that has mostly held across Afghanistan, aimed at building confidence between the warring parties and showing the Taliban can control their forces.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg heralded the agreement as a "first step to lasting peace".

"The way to peace is long and hard. We have to be prepared for setbacks, spoilers, there is no easy way to peace but this is an important first step," the Norwegian former prime minister told reporters in Kabul.

Since the US-led invasion that ousted the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks, America has spent more than $1 trillion in fighting and rebuilding in Afghanistan.

About 2,400 US soldiers have been killed, along with unknown tens of thousands of Afghan troops, Taliban fighters and Afghan civilians.

The insurgents said they had halted all hostilities Saturday in honour of the agreement.

"Since the deal is being signed today, and our people are happy and celebrating it, we have halted all our military operations across the country," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.

Any insurgent pledge to guarantee Afghanistan is never again used by extremist movements such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh to plot attacks abroad will be key to the deal's viability.

The Taliban's sheltering of Al-Qaeda was the main reason for the US invasion following the 9/11 attacks.

The group, which had risen to power in the 1990s in the chaos of civil war, suffered a swift defeat at the hands of the US and its allies. They retreated before re-emerging to lead a deadly insurgency against the new government in Kabul.

After the NATO combat mission ended in December 2014, the bulk of Western forces withdrew from the country, leaving it in an increasingly precarious position.

While Afghans are eager to see an end to the violence, experts say any prospective peace will depend on the outcome of talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government.

But with President Ashraf Ghani and rival Abdullah Abdullah at loggerheads over contested election results, few expect the pair to present a united front, unlike the Taliban, who would then be in a position to take the upper hand in negotiations.

(With AFP)

 

Related


Taliban rule out cease-fire until it is agreed in talks

Updated 12 August 2020

Taliban rule out cease-fire until it is agreed in talks

  • President Ghani’s order to release 400 hardcore Taliban prisoners opens way for negotiations

KABUL: The Taliban have rejected calls for a truce before the long-awaited talks with the government get underway. They said that the possibility of a cease-fire could be debated only during the talks.

“When our prisoners are released, we will be ready for the talks,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Arab News on Tuesday.

“A cease-fire or reduction of violence can be among the items in the agenda of the talks,” he said.

This follows President Ashraf Ghani signing a decree for the release of 400 hardcore Taliban prisoners on Monday — who Kabul said were responsible for some of the worst attacks in the country in recent years — thereby removing the last obstacle to the start of the negotiations set by the Taliban.

However, Kabul has yet to announce the date of their release.

Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for the government-appointed peace council, said that Doha, Qatar, would be the likely venue.

“Deliberations are continuing, and no decision has been made on a firm date yet,” he said.

Ghani pledged to release the prisoners after the Loya Jirga, or traditional assembly, voiced support for their freedom.

After three days of deliberations the Jirga, which comprises 3,400 delegates, said that its decision was for the sake of “the cessation of bloodshed” and to remove “the obstacle to peace talks.”

After the Jirga’s announcement, Ghani said that “the ball was now in the Taliban’s court” and that they needed to enforce a nationwide cease-fire and begin talks to bring an end to more than 40 years of war, particularly the latest chapter in a conflict that started with the Taliban’s ousting from power in the US-led invasion in late 2001.

The exchange of prisoners between the government and the Taliban was part of a deal signed between the insurgent group and the US in Doha in February
this year.

The prisoner swap program — involving the release of 5,000 Taliban inmates in return for 1,000 security forces held by the group — was to be completed within 10 days in early March, followed by the crucial intra-Afghan talks.

February’s deal between the Taliban emissaries and US delegates, led by the US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, came after 18 months of intensive and secret talks, amid growing public frustration in the US about the Afghan war — America’s longest in history.

Ghani, whose government was sidelined from the February accord, initially voiced his opposition to freeing the Taliban inmates.

However, faced with increasing pressure from the US, Kabul began releasing 4,600 prisoners in a phased manner.

The intra-Afghan talks are also crucial for US President Donald Trump, who is standing for reelection in November and is keen to use the pull-out of forces and the start of negotiations as examples of his successful foreign policy. However, experts say the next stage will not be easy.

Analyst and former journalist Taj Mohammad told Arab News: “The talks will be a long, complicated process, with lots of ups and downs. It took 18 months for the Taliban and US to agree on two points; the withdrawal of all US troops and the Taliban pledging to cut ties with militant groups such as Al-Qaeda. Now, imagine, how long it will take for the completion of a very complicated process of talks between Afghans who will debate women’s rights, minorities rights, election, Islamic values, … the form of government and so on.”

For some ordinary Afghans on the streets, however, the planned talks have revived hopes for peace and security and “are more needed in Afghanistan than in any other country.”

“I am more optimistic now than in the past. All sides have realized they cannot win by force and may have decided to rise to the occasion and come together,” Fateh Shah, a 45-year-old civil servant from Kabul, said.

Others spoke of their dreams to “go back home.”

“I have been away from my village for 19 years, and as soon as peace comes, we will pack up and go there,” said Rasool Dad, a 50-year-old porter who lives as a war-displaced person in Kabul, talking of his desire to return to his birthplace in southern Helmand province.

However, 30-year-old banker Sharif Amiri wasn’t very optimistic about the future.

“Even if the talks turn out to be successful, that will not mean an end to the war or the restoration of security. There are spoilers in the region, at home and at an international level who will try to sabotage peace here,” he said, hinting at rivalries among countries in the region, including major powers such as Russia, China and the US, who have used Afghanistan as a direct and indirect battleground for years.