DOHA: After years’ long hectic negotiations, the United States and Afghan Taliban are set to sign a peace deal here on Saturday (today).
According to the Taliban sources, the US and Afghan government would release their 5,000 prisoners and in return the Taliban would free 1,000 prisoners of the Afghan government. The US will also announce a timeline for withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan in exchange for guarantees from the Taliban that they won’t allow the militant groups such as al-Qaeda to operate in Afghanistan.
The Taliban said their deputy leader and chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will sign the peace accord on behalf of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — a title they are using for their armed movement.
Similarly, the Taliban said US representative for Afghanistan and their chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad was likely to sign the peace deal on behalf of the United States. Taliban sources said they had demanded US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to be present in the peace agreement ceremony. However, it was not clear if they would be coming, though some sources said Mike Pompeo had already arrived in Doha and would attend the ceremony.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has also arrived to represent Pakistan. According to the Taliban sources, their delegation, comprising senior Taliban leaders, had arrived in Doha to attend what they called “a historic ceremony”, which is to going to be held in Qatar’s first five-star hotel Sheraton Grand.
On Friday, there were rumours that some issues were still unresolved and the signing ceremony of peace accord could probably be postponed. According to insiders, the Afghan government initially avoided sending its delegation to attend the signing ceremony but later it agreed to send a six-member delegation to figure out solution to the prisoners’ swap with the Taliban.
The Afghan delegation, including a woman and five men, spent a busy day holding meetings with multiple people on the exchange of prisoners going to happen soon after the signing of peace accord.
According to the Taliban, their issues with the US had almost resolved but since the prisoners’ swap was related to the Afghan government, it created a bit confusion just one day before the signing of peace accord.
“The Americans had taken responsibility to ensure the release of prisoners. They called the Afghan delegation to Doha and wanted them to share a list of their 1,000 prisoners with the Taliban,” said one Taliban leader in Doha.
Pleading anonymity, he said they had already delivered lists of their 5,000 prisoners to the United States. “In return, we would free 1,000 prisoners of the Afghan government but they were yet to share their lists with us,” said one senior Taliban leaders in Doha.
He said the Afghan government seemed to have some reservations about the prisoners’ swap and that’s why it started adopting delaying tactics. “But we have been working nonstop on this issue since Thursday and are hopeful of resolving it,” he said, adding that they had fulfilled their commitment made with the US during the peace process and now it was their responsibility to make sure the Afghan government showed sincerity in the peace process.
“In case our prisoners are not freed after the signing of peace deal, we will not join the intra-Afghan dialogue. We know implementation of the peace accord on the ground would be a difficult challenge for all of us but we are hopeful,” said the Taliban leader.
Taliban said they had invited world leaders and ambassadors from around 26 countries to the peace accord ceremony. The peace process with the US had started in 2008. They held talks in 2010 and 2012, but failed to make any breakthrough. They began the peace process with the Trump administration and after many ups and downs, they concluded the negotiations in February and agreed to sign a peace deal.
The Taliban said they could extend the seven-day "Reduction in Violence" (RIV) announced on February 22 in Afghanistan if the US fulfilled its commitment.
The Taliban leaders said the US would begin a phased withdrawal of American and coalition forces. After that, the Afghan government and members of other political parties, as well as civil society groups, would need to constitute a delegation to begin the intra-Afghan dialogue or further peace negotiations with the Taliban.
AFP adds: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Friday warned Iran against scuttling an upcoming agreement with the Taliban, accusing it of seeking to be a "spoiler."
Pompeo confirmed that a one-week partial truce was holding with the Taliban, who are scheduled to sign the landmark accord with the United States in Qatar on Saturday (today). "There is a history of Iran engaging in activity inside of Afghanistan to act as a spoiler," Pompeo told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"We´ve seen just these last six days a significant reduction in violence in Afghanistan and we are watching closely to see if the Islamic Republic of Iran begins to take even more active measure that undermine our efforts at peace and reconciliation," he said.
He warned that Iran could increase risks for US troops, whose numbers were expected to be sharply scaled down under the Doha agreement.
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