ISLAMABAD                 -            The United States and Afghan Taliban will sign a historic peace deal today (February 29).

Pakistan will participate in the signing ceremony in Doha, Qatar, which will end the war spreading over around two decades.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who flew to Doha yesterday, said representatives from 50 countries, including foreign ministers of different countries, will attend the signing ceremony. In a statement, the FM said Pakistan had been invited to become part of this entire process and participate in it. “This is an honor for Pakistan and acknowledgement of its efforts,” he added.

Qureshi said that India made its utmost efforts to create hurdles in the Afghan peace agreement. “Despite all that, it will be a big success,” he said. The FM said Pakistan had a central role at world level and the world was appreciating its role for establishment of peace in Afghanistan.

The peace deal comes a week after the “reduction in violence” agreement announced by the US and the Taliban group in Afghanistan. The signing of the peace deal in Doha will unlock intra-Afghan talks between the Taliban and Afghan stakeholders, including the country’s West-backed government, to decide the future course of the country. Those talks however, could take months due to divisions between President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah over key issues.

Last week, Abdullah contested the results of the presidential elections after incumbent President Ghani was declared the winner. Any future political process in the country will be difficult unless the two rivals resolve their differences. Both had planned separate inaugurations slated this week but they deferred their plans on US advice over concerns it would jeopardise the signing of the peace deal. The two leaders were brought together to form a National Unity Government in the wake of the 2014 elections, which were marred by irregularities.

The Taliban have long demanded the withdrawal of foreign troops, calling them an “occupation” force, and blaming them for the almost two decades of war in the country.

In the marathon negotiations between US officials and Taliban representatives in Doha, which began in 2018, the US has sought guarantees from the Taliban that, in exchange for the withdrawal of foreign troops, Afghan soil would not be used for attacks on US interests. This week, Foreign Office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui said Pakistan welcomed the peace deal between the US and Afghan Taliban.

She expressed the confidence that this will pave the way for intra Afghan dialogue. She hoped this historic opportunity will be seized by all the Afghan parties to take the people of Afghanistan towards peace and stability. The spokesperson said Pakistan had played a significant role in facilitating the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. Pakistan had long insisted that there was no military solution to the Afghan issue. US President Donald Trump had sought Pakistan’s help to bring the Taliban on the dialogue table. Prime Minister Imran Khan had assured Trump of support for the peace process eventually leading to the agreement.