Wednesday, February 12, 2020 10:52:02 PM
AP, Islamabad :
The US and the Taliban appeared closer Wednesday to sealing a deal for an American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reported "notable progress" in negotiations and a senior Taliban official said violence could be slashed in the coming days.
Washington and the insurgents have been locked in gruelling talks that have stretched over more than a year for an agreement that would see the US pull thousands of troops from Afghanistan in a bid to end America's longest war.
In return, the Taliban would provide various security guarantees and launch eventual talks with the Kabul government.
Ghani said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had called him to inform him of developments in the talks, which are taking place in Doha.
"Today, I was pleased to receive a call from @SecPompeo, informing me of the notable progress made in the ongoing peace talks with the Taliban," Ghani said on his official Twitter account late Tuesday.
"The Secretary informed me about the Taliban's proposal with regards to bringing a significant and enduring reduction in violence."
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.
"If the deal is signed, the Taliban will start a reduction of violence on Friday," the official in Afghanistan said, adding that the insurgents were working to bring any Taliban splinter groups into line.
Citing Afghan and US officials, the New York Times reported that US President Donald Trump had given conditional approval to a deal with the Taliban.
The two foes have been on the brink of a breakthrough before, with a deal all but complete in September before Trump nixed it at the last moment amid continued Taliban violence.
The Times said Trump would only give final approval to the deal if the Taliban stick to a reduction in violence of "about seven days later this month". The Taliban source in Pakistan said the group has agreed to the proposal.
Meanwhile, The Taliban have issued an ultimatum to Washington after weeks of talks with a U.S. peace envoy, demanding a reply on their offer of a seven-day reduction of violence in Afghanistan, or they would walk away from the negotiating table, two Taliban officials said Wednesday.
A reduction in violence deal for a very short period is sought by the Taliban because they don't want to commit to a formal cease-fire until other components of a final deal are in place. They have previously said a cease-fire could blunt their battlefield momentum if the U.S. or Kabul renege on their promises.
The development comes as Washington said late Tuesday that an agreement on the insurgents' "reduction of violence" offer was days away. Also, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani tweeted that he had received a phone call from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo telling him of "notable progress" in the talks with the Taliban.
The ultimatum came from the chief Taliban negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who met earlier this week with White House envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Qatari foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, according to two Taliban officials familiar with the negotiations. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.
There was no immediate response from Washington on the ultimatum, which appeared designed to focus the negotiations on Taliban demands. The Taliban maintain a political office in Doha, the capital of the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, where Khalilzad often meets their representatives in the talks that are seeking to find a resolution to Afghanistan's 18-year war, America's longest conflict.
President Donald Trump's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, said Tuesday that he is cautiously optimistic there could be a U.S. agreement with the Taliban over the next days or weeks, but that a withdrawal of American forces is not "imminent."
The agreement, which Trump would still have to sign off on, calls for both Taliban and U.S. forces to pledge to adhere to a week's "reduction of violence" that would lead to an agreement signing between the United States and the Taliban. 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.
The details emerging from Washington on the agreement are similar to details released weeks earlier by Taliban spokesman in Doha, Suhail Shaheen, and would appear to give the Taliban all they have asked for.
Another Taliban demand is that in any all-Afghan negotiations, representatives of Afghan President Ghani's government cannot come to the table in an official capacity but only as ordinary Afghan citizens. The Taliban do not recognize the Afghan government and have refused to negotiate directly with Ghani, effectively sidelining Kabul from the process.
Ghani, whose political future remains uncertain following last September's presidential election, which still has no official winner, has previously demanded that the Taliban negotiate with his government. His political opponents and his partner in the so-called Unity Government, Abdullah Abdullah, have sharply criticized Ghani's intransigence and accused him of trying to sideline their involvement in the peace process. Ghani has also blasted the "reduction of violence" offer, demanding a permanent cease-fire and a halt in the near-daily attacks by the Taliban.
The Taliban have refused, saying they first want agreements in place that would be guaranteed by international powers such as Gulf Arab states, Russia, China and the U.N., before agreeing to a permanent cease-fire.
The "reduction of violence" deal would call for the Taliban and U.S. to refrain from conducting attacks or combat operations for seven days, according to a person familiar with the ongoing discussions who was not authorized to discuss the proposal and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Asked about whether Trump would sign off on such an agreement, O'Brien said there has been "significant progress" in the months-long on-again, off-again talks with the Taliban and that the U.S. is "cautiously optimistic that some good news could be forthcoming."
"The president had made it very clear that there will have to be a reduction in violence and there will have to be meaningful intra-Afghan talks for things to move forward," O'Brien also said, speaking at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council in Washington.
Other conditions in the deal would include a Taliban pledge not to associate with al-Qaida, the Islamic State group or other militant groups.
"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. "We want to make sure that Afghanistan doesn't become a safe haven for terrorism again."
The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan with a harsh version of Islamic law from 1996 to 2001 and hosted al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden as he masterminded the 9/11 attacks, say they no longer seek a monopoly on power. But the militant group now controls or holds sway over roughly half of the country.
There are fears that a full withdrawal of some 20,000 NATO troops, including about 12,000 U.S. forces, would leave the Afghan government vulnerable, or unleash another round of fighting in a war that has killed tens of thousand of Afghans and also claimed the lives of 2,400 U.S. service men and women.
Afghan civilians have paid the heaviest price - the United Nations says that between 2009, when it first began documenting civilian casualties, and October 2019, a total of 34,677 Afghan civilians have been killed, either in insurgent attacks or being caught in the crossfire of battles between militants and Afghan security forces and their U.S.-led coalition allies.
The State Department declined to comment on negotiations beyond saying that the "U.S. talks with the Taliban in Doha continue around the specifics of a reduction in violence." Ghani, Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper will all be in Munich, Germany, this week for the annual Munich Security Conference, which is also expected to discuss Afghanistan.
ARVIND Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party, the governing party of Delhi, was leading in more than 60 seats in Delhi's 70-member assembly on Tuesday evening. It is almost certain that AAP is going to retain power in Delhi frustrating the Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party. Mr Kejriwal has termed ...
The Bangladesh Under-19 Cricket Team, which clinched the U-19 World Cup title for the first time, will return home today afternoon.Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) President Nazmul Hassan and high government officials are expected to receive them at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. Bangladesh lifted the trophy of the ICC Under-19 World ...
AP, Ramallah, West Bank :Thousands of Palestinians rallied Tuesday in the West Bank to reject President Donald Trump's Mideast initiative and to express support for the Palestinian leadership as it tries to gain support at the United Nations for a resolution opposing the plan.Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas plans to deliver ...
Dia Mirza, who will now be seen in Taapsee Pannu's Thappad, claims she is strong enough to deal with her separation with Sahil Sangha as she derived strength from her parents' separation 34 years ago. The actor believes that this too shall pass. Asking the media to move on from ...
Elli AvrRam is on fire when it comes to her hot new hairstyles from red streak sleek hair to the dreadlocks the actress has come a long way. She rocked the dreadlock avatar throughout her latest romantic-thriller Malang that was directed by Mohit Suri. She recently shares pictures of herself ...
IT could be a good news for the country's economy when the Finance Minister announced that five state-run banks are set to get listed on the stock market by September as part of the government's efforts to gear-up the capital market. The decision was taken in a meeting with Bangladesh ...
Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) president Nazmul Hassan Papon on Monday has labeled the Under-19 team's World Cup triumph as the biggest achievement in the country's sports history.In what was their first final in the competition's 22-year history, the young Tigers beat four-time champions India by three wickets in a nervy ...
A recent picture is doing the rounds on the internet and to our surprise; it is Disha Patani and Varun Dhawan shooting together. Wait, what? Looks like tinsel town has a new on-screen pair and we wonder what it is that they are bringing to the audience. Looking into each ...
AFP, Jerusalem :The U.S. ambassador to Israel has cautioned Israel against "unilateral action" in annexing West Bank settlements, warning that such a move could endanger the Trump administration's recently unveiled Mideast plan.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had initially sought to move quickly to annex large swathes of the West Bank ...
Atletico Madrid won for the first time in four games on Saturday thanks to a 1-0 win over Granada that moved them into fourth place in La Liga, as Getafe continued their surprising charge towards Champions League football.Argentinian forward Angel Correa scored Atletico's only goal in the sixth minute at ...
IT was not unknown to the policymakers that the overseas jobs have becoming heavily dependent on Saudi Arabia since the late 80s, but the successive governments, without making any significant contribution to exploring new destinations, have consumed the remittance-fruits of the unskilled workers. Latest data revealed that the recruitment of ...
Sheikh Arif Bulbon :Film actress Syeda Shahnoor has been taking part in different activities of a street children’s organisation round the year as its brand ambassador. Today is her birthday. According to her, she will pass time with them from 11:00am to 2:00pm at Hatirjheel to be organised by Evergreen ...
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday urged US governors to resist Chinese pressure to shun Taiwan as he warned that Beijing was increasingly taking its diplomatic battle to the local level.In an address to state leaders gathered in Washington, Pompeo said that President Donald Trump's administration would step up ...