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U.S., Taliban Sign Deal to End Afghan War

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KABUL: After a week-long reduction in violence that resulted from painstaking negotiations, the US and Taliban signed a historic agreement Saturday in Qatar, which would herald a drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan and long-awaited negotiation between the rebel group and Kabul government.

The peace agreement includes a 14-month deadline for withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan, political settlement resulting from intra-Afghan dialogue, a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, and guarantees to prevent the use of Afghan soil by any terrorist groups against the security of the US and its allies.

The historic deal was signed by US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban’s chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Doha, Qatar – which was the base of marathon talks for 18 months. The protracted negotiations led by the chief US negotiator culminated into a “weeklong reduction in violence” last week which saw a drastic decline in fighting and guerilla warfare.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on the Taliban to honour its commitments. “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,” he said at the Doha ceremony.

The agreement marks a turning point in an 18-year war against insurgency in Afghanistan and sets motion for the Washington to gradually reduce its military presence as part of the agreement. The Taliban have long demanded an American military withdrawal. About 14,000 US troops and approximately 17,000 troops from 39 NATO allies and partner countries are stationed in Afghanistan in a non-combatant role.

It also heralds a direct dialogue between Kabul and Taliban – with the latter refusing for long to cave to the repeated demands to negotiate. But the Doha peace agreement will also oblige the rebels group to engage in talks with the Afghan government.

The peace deal also proposes the release of 5,000 Taliban members from prison. A negotiating team was sent last week to Doha to speak to the Taliban about the group’s demand to set 5,000 of their prisoners free – a demand Kabul has shrugged off before intra-Afghan dialogue.

This is as the US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg issued a joint declaration with the Afghan government in Kabul, renewing their commitment to the war-ravaged country and its armed forces.

A seven-day period of reduced violence began last week on Friday night in which neither side attacked. There was a significant reduction in violence and a few insurgent attacks happened. The U.S. and Taliban leaders sign the deal in Doha after the weeklong mull proved to be a success, marking the beginning of the drawdown of American troops in exchange for Taliban vows to fight terrorism and stop attacks against the United States.

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