ISLAMABAD: The long-awaited peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban is scheduled to be signed on Feb. 29 in Qatar, a senior Taliban leader privy to talks in Doha told Arab News.
The US and Taliban negotiators reached the understanding during their long discussions on Wednesday, he said, adding that the intra-Afghan dialogue is expected to commence on March 10.
Germany and Norway have offered to host the talks, however, a final decision will be mutually taken by the negotiating sides later, the source said.
About 5000 Taliban prisoners will be freed between Feb. 29 and March 10 where the Taliban have already provided a list of the prisoners to the US officials and the list has been shared with Afghan authorities, he added.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid did not immediately confirm the news when approached. “I will check the information,” he told Arab News.
Main points of the current Taliban-US peace agreement say the two sides will avoid attacks during the 7-day ‘reduction in violence’ period and a peace agreement will be signed at the end of the span.
The intra-afghan dialogue will start within 10 days of the signing of the agreement, foreign troops will start gradual and phased withdrawal after the signing of the agreement and the withdrawal will be completed in 18 months, the source further said.
Taliban and the US negotiators have been heavily involved in deciding dates for the signing of the agreement and intra-Afghan dialogue after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informed him of “notable progress” made in the ongoing peace talks with the Taliban.
Pompeo spoke to both Ghani and Afghan government’s Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah informing them of the developments. Ghani said the secretary informed him about the Taliban’s proposal with regards to bringing a significant and enduring reduction in violence.
“This is a welcoming development and I am pleased that our principal position on peace thus far has begun to yield fruitful results. Our primary objective is to end the senseless bloodshed,” he said.
A Taliban official told Arab News that the group’s chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar has demanded the “final word” from the US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to their offer of a reduction in violence for a week’s time that will lead to the signing of the peace agreement.
“Baradar had also indicated that they (Taliban) could also pause peace negotiations if the US does not respond to their offer,” according to a message shared in the Pashto language by a member of the Taliban leadership council and seen by Arab News.
Taliban representatives will meet US officials in Qatar this afternoon to “press for the US final response,” Taliban sources say.
The Taliban and the US officials had been involved in discussions over the weeks to agree on a definition of the reduction of violence and the measures to be taken by the Taliban and other sides.
The Afghan insurgents had agreed not to carry out attacks in major cities including the capital city of Kabul and not use car bombs that cause civilian casualties and collateral damage, according to a Taliban official familiar with the Taliban leadership’s discussions on the US proposal.
“But the US side had also called for halt to suicide blasts, roadside bombs and attacks on check posts, which was basically a demand from the Afghan government,” he said.
The agreement on the reduction in violence was a sensitive issue for the Taliban leadership.
Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban supreme leader, had referred the issue to a three-member team of the leadership council headed by Taliban’s chief justice Mawlawi Abdul Hakim, whose mosque in Quetta was attacked by a Daesh bomber earlier this month.
Hakeem’s brother was killed at the scene while his son Maulvi Abdul Ali died of wounds at a Karachi hospital on Feb. 3. Hakeem, who is one of the few influential Taliban leaders, endorsed the week-long reduction in violence if it leads to the signing of the long-pending peace agreement to end the conflict in Afghanistan.
In his State of the Union Address on Feb. 4, US President Donald Trump mentioned peace talks with the Taliban. “We are working to finally end America’s longest war and bring our troops back home,” Trump said.