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Afghan president: Taliban deal to come within days

Shamil Shams | Masood Saifullah Munich
February 15, 2020

At the Munich Security Conference, the Afghan leader refused to confirm the US-Taliban deal but said a proper announcement will be made in a week to ten days. He also said the US and Afghanistan are now on the same page.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani
Image: Reuters/M. Dalder

'The road ahead is not easy'

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told a panel at the Munich Security Conference that his government is taking a practical approach to resolving the 18-year-long Afghan conflict.

"We are not going to solve this conflict on the basis of 'paper discussions,'" the Afghan leader added.

Ghani expressed some doubts about the Taliban's intention, alluding to the "Trojan Horse strategy," but said that he needed to test the group's commitment nonetheless. "We are going to take a substantial step forward and test. Testing is going to reveal [if the peace with the Taliban works]."

The US-Taliban deal seems closer than ever after the Islamist group agreed to a seven-day reduction of violence in Afghanistan.

US President Donald Trump on Thursday said a peace agreement was "very close."

On Friday, DW reported that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who also spoke at the conference, and Ghani were ironing out the peace deal details in Munich, with a formal announcement expected sometime next week.

Read more: US announces 7-day partial truce with Taliban

'On the same page'

The Afghan government has so far demanded to be more involved in the US-Taliban peace negotiations in Qatar. But after Ghani's meetings with Pompeo and US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, it appears that the two sides have reached an understanding on the issue.

"We are on the same page. There are risks, but we see an opportunity," Ghani said.

"There is mutual trust [between the US and Afghanistan] that we can do this together. And because of this, we agreed not to make an announcement [here] yesterday or today. We are going to make an announcement within a week to 10 days in a coordinated and choreographed fashion," he added.

Esper also said on Saturday that the agreement between the US and the Taliban "looks very promising."

Ghani secured a lead in the September presidential election's primary results, although the final outcome is yet to be announced. Any Afghan deal that undermines Ghani's position has a slim chance of succeeding.

The Taliban have refused to hold direct talks with the Afghan government, which they do not recognize.

Read more: Afghan peace deal, but at what cost?

A complex peace process

The Afghan peace process has remained fragile and uncertain despite several rounds of talks between Washington and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar.

Read more: US-Taliban talks: DW reporters' firsthand account from Doha

In August last year, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan, and Taliban negotiators in Doha had almost agreed to a road map for peace in Afghanistan. But the Islamist group continued to launch attacks in Afghanistan, attempting to capture territories while killing NATO soldiers, which forced President Trump to temporarily end the talks in September last year.

Analysts say Trump is eager to sign a peace deal before the US presidential election in November.

"The US and the Taliban are closer than they ever have been before to finalize a peace deal, and that's because they appear to have agreed on the last remaining obstacle: the issue of how to reduce violence before a deal is signed," Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told DW on Friday.

"The question now is if the Taliban hold up their end of the bargain and ease up on the violence over the anticipated seven-day period. It will be a test of Taliban cohesion and command and control to see if the insurgents' leadership can order the entire ranks to hold fire, or to reduce fire, over what would be a longer period than at any other time during the war," he added.

Sources close to the Doha peace process say the Taliban are likely to reduce violence between February 22 and 28. If successful, it will be followed by the signing of a deal between the US and the Taliban.

"Both sides have agreed on the same deal that they had almost finalized in September 2019," Sami Yusufzai, a London-based Afghan journalist and an expert on the Taliban, told DW.

"But the Taliban are demanding that the deal be signed right after the successful implementation of a seven-day reduction of violence," he added.

Ghani's statement at the Munich conference about a possible US-Taliban deal announcement in the coming days shows that the three parties to the conflict — Kabul, Washington and the Taliban — are more willing to go ahead with a peace plan than ever.

A US-Taliban deal could pave the way for an extensive intra-Afghan dialogue, in which all Afghan stakeholders will discuss the future political set up for the country.

Read more: US-Taliban peace deal — so near, yet so far

Taliban spokesman: Ceasefire 'on the agenda'