Taleban, Afghan forces reach pact to reduce violence, in move that could lead to US withdrawal

Afghans hold placards during a protest to demand peace, in Ghazni, Afghanistan, on Feb 16, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KABUL/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (REUTERS) - Afghan, international and Taleban forces will observe a seven-day period of reduced violence in Afghanistan beginning at midnight (1930 GMT), an Afghan official and Taleban leaders said on Friday (Feb 21).

The agreement was struck during protracted negotiations between US and Taleban representatives that began in Qatar in 2018, and could lead to a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, they said.

"Based on the plan, the reduction in violence (RIV) will start between the Taleban and international and Afghan security forces for one week," Mr Javid Faisal, spokesman for the Afghan National Security Adviser, told Reuters.

"We hope it is extended for a longer time and opens the way for a ceasefire and intra-Afghan talks," he added.

Three senior Taleban leaders - two in Doha and one in Afghanistan - also confirmed to Reuters that they had agreed on reduction of violence in Afghanistan for seven days starting Friday night.

All three spoke on condition of anonymity. The Taleban is expected to make a formal announcement of the RIV later on Friday.

One Taleban leader based in Doha told Reuters that the period could not be called a "ceasefire". "Every party has the right of self-defence but there would no attacks on each other's positions in these seven days," the Taleban leader said.

"It is to create a security environment in Afghanistan and can be extended if things go well after signing of a peace accord with the US," he added.

Officials privy to the talks had said last week that an agreement with the Taleban would be followed by negotiations on an intra-Afghan political settlement between the Taleban and an Afghan delegation that would include government officials.

The Taleban have previously refused to speak directly to the Kabul government, which they denounce as a US puppet.

Afghan forces will keep up normal military operations against other terrorist groups, such Daesh, or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, during the RIV period, Faisal said, adding that Afghan forces will also retaliate to the smallest violation of the understanding by the Taleban.

"Local government and security officials have been instructed by the president himself on how to follow the regulations agreed upon for the RIV period," he said.

US officials were not immediately available for comment.

US and Taleban negotiators have been meeting in Doha since 2018 even though fighting has raged in Afghanistan and thousands of civilians and combatants have been killed as the insurgents have expanded their territorial control.

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.