KABUL - The Taliban said they have agreed to a temporary nationwide ceasefire in Afghanistan, providing a window during which a peace agreement with the United States could be signed.
A peace deal would allow Washington to bring home its troops from Afghanistan and end its 18-year military engagement in the country. The US wants any deal to include a promise from the Taliban that Afghanistan would not be used as a base by terrorist groups. The US has an estimated 12,000 troops in the country.
The Taliban leaders have agreed on a short-term ceasefire, said a source close to the talks. The date for the signing of a peace agreement between the US and the Taliban will be announced within the next few days and then both sides will start discussions about intra-Afghan talks, said the source.
The Taliban chief must approve the agreement but that is expected. The duration of the ceasefire was not specified but it is being suggested it would last for 10 days.
Members of a Taliban negotiating team met for a week with the group’s ruling council before they agreed on the brief ceasefire. The negotiating team returned on Sunday to Qatar where they maintain their political office.
A key pillar of the agreement, which the US and Taliban have been hammering out for more than a year, is direct negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the conflict. Those talks are expected to be held within two weeks of the signing of a US-Taliban peace deal.
They will probably decide what a post-war Afghanistan will look like, and what role the Taliban will play.
The negotiations would cover a wide range of subjects, such as the rights of women, free speech and the fate of tens of thousands of Taliban fighters, as well as the heavily armed militias belonging to Afghanistan’s warlords who have amassed wealth and power since the Taliban’s ousting from power.
The temporary ceasefire had been proposed by US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad during the last round of talks.
According to VOA, the Taliban’s leadership has agreed to observe a ceasefire with US-led foreign troops in the country, starting early next month.
The temporary truce could pave the ground for concluding a long-anticipated US-Taliban agreement on the drawdown of foreign troops in Afghanistan. The move could also jumpstart Taliban-Afghan negotiations on a permanent end to decades of Afghan hostilities.
Insurgent sources believed the temporary truce, if announced, would lead to immediate resumption of US-Taliban talks so the two adversaries could finalise the accord on the removal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan.
Washington paused the dialogue earlier this month, demanding the Taliban leadership agree to a temporary ceasefire to further the peace process.
Under the proposed deal, Taliban officials say, the insurgent group would be bound to prevent Taliban-controlled Afghan areas from being used by international terrorists for attacks against America and other countries. In return, US and allied forces would commit to a complete drawdown of their forces.
But the Trump administration has said the withdrawal process would be “conditions-based”, meaning progress in Taliban-Afghan peace talks would determine the pace of the drawdown.
Washington has hinted at reducing its troop levels to around 8,600 from the current more than 12,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan. NATO allies have about 8,000 forces.
Some of the US forces are conducting counterterrorism missions while the rest, together with coalition troops are tasked with training, advising and assisting Afghan forces battling the Taliban.
Meanwhile the violence continued in Afghanistan.
A Taliban attack in northern Afghanistan killed at least 17 local militiamen, an Afghan official said Sunday.
The attack apparently targeted a local militia commander who escaped unharmed, said Jawad Hajri, a spokesman for the governor of Takhar province, where the attack took place late Saturday.
Local Afghan militias commonly operate in remote areas, and are under the command of either the defence or interior ministries.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack.
The attack came even as Taliban officials have told The Associated Press that a temporary nationwide ceasefire may be in the works.
The Taliban have previously refused all offers of a ceasefire by the Afghan government, except for a three-day truce in June 2018 over the Eidul Fitr holidays.