(Written by Mujib Mashal)
The United States and the Taliban started the clock early Saturday on a plan to end America’s longest war after more than 18 years, beginning with what they hope will be seven days of greatly reduced violence in Afghanistan.
If the weeklong, partial truce holds, the two sides have agreed, they will meet on Feb. 29 to sign an agreement laying out a timetable for the US to withdraw its troops.
The pact is also meant to clear the way for peace talks involving the Taliban and the government in Kabul, and the US. officials point to the reduction in hostilities as the first link in a fragile chain of events that could deliver peace in Afghanistan after more than four decades of conflict.
Read| Afghan challenge
But the Afghan government is deep in a political crisis after a bitterly disputed presidential election in which the opposition candidate claimed victory despite President Ashraf Ghani having been declared the winner. With rival claimants to legitimacy, it is unclear who would negotiate with the Taliban, whether they would be prepared to enter talks while struggling to control the government, or what kind of mandate they would have.
US negotiators demanded the seven-day reduction in violence, which went into effect after midnight Saturday, as a public show of the Taliban’s good faith and its ability to control its fractious and scattered forces. Now it is the government in Kabul whose cohesion and command are more in doubt.
“I call on all Afghans to seize this opportunity,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote on Twitter on Friday.
A previous attempt at finalizing a deal between the Taliban and the US fell apart on the verge of completion in September, with President Donald Trump citing a new outbreak of violence, and the same risk hangs over the latest try.
And even if the carefully choreographed rollout of the agreement does presage the end of the American phase of the war, the plan might not spell the end of the war itself. Trump is determined, one way or another, to reduce US involvement in Afghanistan to a minimum, and the Taliban’s long-term commitment to compromise and power-sharing remains open to question.
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