KABUL -- The United States and the Taliban appeared closer on Wednesday (February 12) to sealing a peace deal after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reported "notable progress" in negotiations and a senior Taliban official said violence could be slashed in the coming days.
Ghani said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had called him to inform him of developments in the talks, which are taking place in Doha.
"Today, I was pleased to receive a call from @SecPompeo, informing me of the notable progress made in the ongoing peace talks with the Taliban," Ghani tweeted late Tuesday (February 11).
"The Secretary informed me about the Taliban's proposal with regards to bringing a significant and enduring reduction in violence," he added.
A Taliban source in Pakistan told AFP that negotiators would meet again on Wednesday in Doha, while in Afghanistan another senior Taliban official suggested the group was poised to reduce attacks.
"If the deal is signed, the Taliban will start a reduction of violence on Friday [February 14]," the official in Afghanistan said, adding that the insurgents were working to bring any Taliban splinter groups into line.
Washington has given conditional approval to a deal with the Taliban, reported the New York Times, citing Afghan and US officials.
The two foes have been on the brink of a breakthrough before, with a deal all but complete in September before the US government nixed it at the last moment amid continued Taliban violence.
Washington will give final approval to the deal only if the Taliban stick to a reduction in violence of "about seven days later this month", reported the Times. The group has agreed to the proposal, said the Taliban source in Pakistan.
For all intents and purposes, this will be a ceasefire but cannot be named that because of various "complications", said the source.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg Wednesday welcomed the apparent progress toward a United States-Taliban deal in Afghanistan. The militants must reduce attacks, he warned.
"We would welcome any step that can lead to the reduction of violence," Stoltenberg said as he arrived for a meeting of NATO defence ministers, who will discuss the alliance's training and support mission in Afghanistan on Thursday (February 13).
Still, progress remains fragile. A deadly suicide attack in Kabul on Tuesday underlined the continuing threat of violence, and Stoltenberg warned the militants must make good on their promises.
"The Taliban has to demonstrate a real will and ability to deliver a reduction in violence to make it possible to have any progress towards a lasting and sustainable peace solution in Afghanistan," Stoltenberg said.
Ice cream and selfies
The only other time there has been a Taliban ceasefire since the 2001 United States-led invasion was in 2018, during the first three days of Eid at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
It invoked moving scenes such as Afghans sharing ice cream with Taliban fighters and snapping selfies with locals. But afterwards, the violence resumed.
Despite talks between the United States and the Taliban, Afghanistan's war has raged on, with the number of clashes jumping to record levels in the last quarter of 2019, according to a recent US government watchdog report.