Western forces in Afghanistan have urged the Taliban to respect a new plan to limit violence over the next week as a prelude to a lasting peace deal.
NATO in Afghanistan tweeted a statement from NATO Senior Civilian Representative to Afghanistan Sir Nick Kay, who called on the country’s political leaders “to come together in support of peace process.” Kay added, “Calm, dialogue and compromise are needed—not unilateral actions. This opportunity for peace shouldn’t be missed.”
The seven-day “reduction in violence” began at midnight local time on Friday. Under the terms of the agreement, no major offensive operations will be launched against the Taliban by international or Afghan forces. The Taliban will not engage in roadside bombings, suicide attacks or rocket strikes, The Associated Press reported.
The truce raised hopes that an end to the 18 year-long conflict was near. But doubts linger over whether the Taliban and Western-backed Afghan government can negotiate a permanent end to the war which has killed some 157,000 people since 2001.
Western forces warned the Taliban on Saturday that its fighters must seize the chance to achieve peace for the war-torn nation. If the limited truce succeeds, the U.S. and Taliban will sign a peace accord on February 29 followed by negotiations between the Taliban and the government in Kabul.
The Resolute Support Mission—the NATO-led training and advising mission in Afghanistan—said that a “conditions-based reduction in violence is a win for #Afghanistan. The #Taliban must fulfill their commitments.”
Javid Faisal, the spokesperson for the Afghan government’s Office of the National Security Council, told the BBC on Saturday that the week-long reduction in violence is a test of trust with the Taliban. “If Taliban breaches, future steps towards peace will be questioned,” he said.
The Taliban have historically refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which it calls an illegitimate puppet government of Western forces. An eventual peace agreement will likely see the Taliban rejoin mainstream Afghan politics, a prospect feared by civil and women’s rights groups.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani won last year’s presidential election his rivals dispute the result. Given ongoing dissonance, it is unclear who would represent the government at peace talks with the Taliban.
Though the road to peace is fraught with obstacles, U.S. officials have lauded the partial truce and expressed cautious optimism that it can lead to the end of America’s longest-running war.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that the limited truce “is an important step on a long road to peace, and I call on all Afghans to seize this opportunity.” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper wrote on Twitter that the U.S. and NATO believe in “a negotiated and conditions-based political settlement between all Afghans,” but that the Taliban “must demonstrate their commitment to a meaningful reduction in violence.”
“Should the Taliban reject the path of peace, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our Afghan partners,” he added.
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