U.S. reaches historic agreement with Taliban, with promise to end 19-year engagement in Afghanistan
After the successful implementation of a week-long reduction in violence in Afghanistan, the US and the Taliban on Saturday inked an agreement to end the protracted conflict.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Taliban’s spokesperson in Doha, Suhail Shaheen, attended the deal signing ceremony.
The deal sets into motion the draw-down of US troops from Afghanistan — a key Taliban demand since the start of the conflict in 2001. The US will pull out 8,600 soldiers from the 13,000 currently stationed in Afghanistan.
Both Washington and the Islamist group hailed the deal as a historic milestone, which they say is a major step toward achieving peace in the war-ravaged country.
"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," President Donald Trump said in a statement on Friday. "These commitments represent an important step to a lasting peace in a new Afghanistan, free from al-Qaeda, ISIS, and any other terrorist group that would seek to bring us harm," he added.
Experts say the deal will boost Trump's chances of a re-election this year.
The European Union welcomed the US-Taliban deal as "important first steps" toward securing a lasting resolution to the conflict, but urged for human rights and women's rights to be respected going forward.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper stressed that the agreement is only the beginning, and that Washington is prepared to pull out of the deal if the Taliban fails to uphold the agreement.
"The road ahead will not be easy. Achieving lasting peace in Afghanistan will require patience and compromise among all parties," said Esper.
An Afghan government delegation was also present in Doha to witness the US-Taliban deal, but it did not play a part in it. The Taliban refuse to have direct contact with the the Afghan government, calling it "a U.S. puppet." and have been reluctant to establish direct contact with them.
"The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has formed a committee to establish preliminary contact with the Taliban," Sediq Sediqqi, the spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, told ACV Reports ahead of the Doha signing. "We formed it after repeated demands by the Taliban that were conveyed to us by our international allies," he added.
The Taliban, however, continue to downplay the significance of the Afghan government in the process. US and Taliban negotiators have held several rounds of talks in Doha in the past years, without the active involvement of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's government.
"We have not invited the Afghan government delegation to Doha. If the US has invited them, it does not concern us," Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban's spokesman in Doha and a member of the group's negotiating team, told ACV Reports.
"We will proceed according to the framework agreed in the deal with the US. The framework is clear — we'll first sign the deal, which will be followed by a trust-building phase," Shaheen said. "During the trust-building phase, 5,000 of our prisoners in Afghan jails, and 1,000 prisoners who belong to the Afghan government, will be released. Only after these steps can an intra-Afghan dialogue start."