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13 February, 2020 03:20:48 AM
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US, Taliban close to truce on ‘violence reduction’

AP, Islamabad
US, Taliban close to truce on ‘violence reduction’
National army soldiers stand guard at the site of suicide attack near the military academy in Kabul on Tuesday. AP Photo

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.

EA

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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