DOHA, Qatar -- The United States signed a landmark deal with the Taliban on Saturday (February 29), laying out a timetable for a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan within 14 months.
The agreement is expected to lead to a dialogue between the Taliban and the Kabul government that, if successful, could ultimately see an end to the 18-year conflict.
Intra-Afghan talks are scheduled to begin March 10.
Taliban top negotiator Mullah Baradar signed the accord alongside Washington's chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad, at a gilded desk in a conference room in a luxury Doha hotel.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looked on as the two inked the deal, after urging the insurgents to "keep your promises to cut ties with Al-Qaeda".
"I know there will be a temptation to declare victory, but victory for Afghans will only be achieved when they can live in peace and prosper," he said at the ceremony in Doha.
Even as close as last November, observers concluded that Taliban retained "deep ties" to al-Qaeda.
The Taliban's pledge to guarantee Afghanistan is never again used by jihadist movements such as Al-Qaeda and "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) to plot attacks abroad will be key to the deal's viability.
The Taliban's sheltering of Al-Qaeda was the main reason for the US invasion following the 9/11 attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 Americans.
On the eve of the signing, US President Donald Trump urged the Afghan people to embrace the chance for a new future.
"If the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan live up to these commitments, we will have a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home," he said.
The signing comes after a week-long, partial truce that has mostly held across Afghanistan, aimed at building confidence between the warring parties and showing the Taliban can control their forces.
The United States and its allies will withdraw all their forces from Afghanistan within 14 months if the Taliban abide by the terms of the accord.
After an initial reduction of troops to 8,600 within 135 days of Saturday's signing, the US and its partners "will complete withdrawal of all remaining forces from Afghanistan" within 14 months.
The US and the Taliban also agreed to swap thousands of prisoners in a "confidence building measure".
"Up to 5,000 prisoners of the (Taliban)... and 1,000 prisoners of the other side (Afghan forces) will be released by March 10," the deal said.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg heralded the agreement as a "first step to lasting peace".
"The way to peace is long and hard. We have to be prepared for setbacks, spoilers, there is no easy way to peace but this is an important first step," the Norwegian former prime minister told reporters in Kabul.
The EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement that "the current opportunity to move towards peace should not be missed" and the bloc expected "Afghan-owned and Afghan-led negotiations to start without delay in an inclusive manner and aiming at a lasting peace".
Since the US-led invasion that ousted the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks, about 2,400 US soldiers have been killed, along with unknown tens of thousands of Afghan troops, Taliban fighters and Afghan civilians.
The deal, however, has its opponents. Observers have pointed out that the Iranian regime may seek to be a spoiler by engaging proxy groups to strike at US and Afghan interests.
ISIS, which has been effectively defeated in Afghanistan, may also attempt to soy discord in an attempt to scuttle the deal.
The Taliban said they had halted all hostilities Saturday in honour of the agreement.
"Since the deal is being signed today, and our people are happy and celebrating it, we have halted all our military operations across the country," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.
US 'will not hesitate to nullify' agreement
The United States "will not hesitate to nullify" its historic deal with the Taliban if the insurgents renege on their security guarantees and commitment to hold talks with the Afghan government, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday.
On a visit to Kabul, Esper warned that "should the Taliban fail to honour their commitments they will forfeit their chance to sit with fellow Afghans and deliberate on the future of their country."
"Moreover the United States would not hesitate to nullify the agreement," he added.
dear sir, kindly request that taliban doesn't want peace if they want peace in afghanistan it is easy way they can come to afghanistan and sign peace agreement.with muhammad ashraf ghani.Reply
Right, this agreement belongs to the current government.Reply
One gets surprised as how America with all its glory was deceived by Pakistani intelligence and army? Leave a human, even a donkey knows that Taliban are trained and armed by Pakistan and then assigned to kill civilians, government soldiers and foreign soldiers who are helping to provide training to Afghan army.Reply
I ask all Afghans to honestly work for peace and sit around the table for peace negotiations. now time came for peace. war ended with America. now afghan should not quarrel over power. Ashraf Ghani should step down from power, and let the Taliban to rule for some years.Reply
Many many congratulations! I ask all friends to prefer love and friendship over hatred and enmity. First, we have to make peace with ourselves and then we extend the hand of peace to others.Reply
Long live with Tahrik Taliban islami Afghanistan. Finally America alongside other forty countries were defeated by the Taliban. Experience shows that no one has ruled the Afghan people and Afghanistan for long. Before U.S. invasion, Russians and the British also came and were mortally defeated by the brave Afghans. The world should now learn that you cannot win the war in Afghanistan. This is the country of the lions and tigers. I tell to all the nations and government across the globe that don’t make mistake by attacking Afghanistan. If you make mistake by coming here, you would lose the war and will be shameful like the America, Russia and the Britain.Reply
The hypocrite America signed two agreements simultaneously. Its Defense Ministry signed peace agreement with Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and its State Department signed it with the Islamic Emirate of Taliban. It has launched an amazing game. From here it is understood that America never wants a strong government in Afghanistan. Down with mischievous America.Reply
Even though, most of the agreements which were signed to bring peace and end the war in Afghanistan did not have positive result, but we take this one as good omen for an Afghanistan without hatred and violence and a peaceful Afghanistan.Reply
In this agreement, there is seen hypocrisy of America. American is the most hypocritical country in the world. God knows what game it has launched. May God annihilate the damned America.Reply
From this agreement, it seems that United States seeks its own national interests. In 2001 when its interests were endangered, it overthrew the Taliban, but now after 20 years war and killing of the poor people of Afghanistan, it signed peace agreement with the Taliban again. The poor Afghans thought that America came to Afghanistan for assistance.Reply