International community hails US-Taliban deal

Doha/ KABUL, Mar 1 (IANS/AP) | Publish Date: 3/1/2020 9:59:56 AM IST

The international community has welcomed the signing of the historic US-Taliban peace agreement as an important step in achieving a lasting political settlement in Afghanistan.

Representatives of the US and the Taliban on Saturday signed the long-awaited deal in the Qatari capital city of Doha, calling for a gradual withdrawal of American troops if the militants negotiates with the Afghan government and cuts ties with terrorist groups, reports Xinhua news agency.

Speaking at the White House on Saturday, US President Donald Trump said that the first withdrawals were starting “immediately” and he expected to “personally” meet Taliban leaders in the near future.

Meanwhile, the Taliban said in a statement that it had reached an agreement “about the termination of occupation of Afghanistan”.

“The accord about the complete withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and never intervening in its affairs in the future is undoubtedly a great achievement,” it added. Addressing the signing ceremony, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani expressed hope that “this historic agreement will contribute to achieving peace, stability and prosperity in the region and the world”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday welcomed the “efforts to achieve a lasting political settlement in Afghanistan” following the deal.

Calling the signing of the deal the beginning of a “reconciliation process,” Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said that his country was committed to playing its role in ensuring the agreement holds and succeeds in bringing peace to Afghanistan.

Saudi Arabia on Saturday also welcomed the signing of the deal.

The deal would contribute to bringing stability back to Afghanistan and promote regional and international security, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Afghan peace deal hits first snag over prisoner releases

Afghanistan’s president said Sunday that he will not free thousands of Taliban prisoners ahead of all-Afghan power-sharing talks set for next week, publicly disagreeing with a timetable for a speedy prisoner release laid out just a day earlier in a U.S.-Taliban peace agreement.

  President Ashraf Ghani’s comments pointed to the first hitch in implementing the fragile deal, which is aimed at ending America’s longest war after more than 18 years and getting rival Afghan factions to agree on their country’s future.

Still, the U.S. has said a planned U.S. troop withdrawal over the next 14 months is linked to the Taliban’s counter-terrorism performance, not to progress in intra-Afghan talks.

The U.S.-Taliban deal signed Saturday envisions the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government ahead of talks between Afghan factions meant to begin March 10 in the Norwegian capital of Oslo. The Taliban would release up to 1,000 prisoners.

Ghani told a news conference in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Sunday that this wasn’t a promise the United States could make. He said the release of prisoners was a decision for his government to take and that he wasn’t ready to release prisoners before the start of negotiations.

“The request has been made by the United States for the release of prisoners and it can be part of the negotiations but it cannot be a precondition,” Ghani said.

The U.S.-Taliban deal is seen as a historic opportunity to extricate the United States from Afghanistan, a nation convulsed by conflict since the Soviet invasion in December 1979. Yet it could also unravel quickly, particularly if the Taliban fail to deliver on a promise that no terror attacks would be launched from Afghan soil.

The intra-Afghan talks between squabbling political factions and rival Taliban in Afghanistan are even more intricate — even if a potential failure might not slow the withdrawal of American forces.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said he considered a prisoner exchange an important confidence-building measure.

“What we have here is a 14-months agreement that, including in these 14 months, there are several things that need to be accomplished because everything is interconnected,” he said Sunday.

“And in that agreement, the prisoner exchange will be one of the first confidence-building measures, so it will remain a very critical step that we need to push forward. And we have the delegations ready for the meeting (with) Taliban and others. So I hope that the negotiations will start very soon.”

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