The Taliban’s ruling council has agreed to a temporary ceasefire in Afghanistan, boosting the chances of a peace agreement with the US.
Washington had demanded a ceasefire before any peace agreement could be signed, which would allow US troops to leave Afghanistan for the first time in 18 years – America’s longest military engagement.
The US, which currently has 12,000 soldiers stationed in the country, wants any peace deal to include a promise from the Taliban that Afghanistan would not be used as a base by terrorist groups.
The duration or start date of the ceasefire was not specified, but it was suggested it could last 10 days. The Taliban chief still needs to approve the move but he is expected to do so.
Four members of the Taliban’s negotiating team met for a week with the ruling council before they agreed to the brief moratorium, in what a BBC study recently found to be the world’s deadliest conflict.
A year later in September, both sides appeared to be on the cusp of signing a peace deal, and talks were suspended.
But with trademark erraticism, Mr Trump paid a surprise Thanksgiving visit to US troops at Bagram Air Base, and met with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani.
During the presidential meeting on 28 November, Mr Trump announced: “The Taliban wants to make a deal, and we’re meeting with them and we’re saying it has to be a ceasefire, and they didn’t want to do a ceasefire, and now they do want to do a ceasefire. I believe it’ll probably work out that way.”
Mr Khalilzad returned to Doha at the beginning of December. It was then that he proposed a temporary halt to hostilities to pave the way to an agreement being signed, Taliban officials said on condition of anonymity, because they were not allowed to speak to media outlets.
A key pillar of any peace deal is the agreement of direct negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the conflict.
Those intra-Afghan talks were expected to be held within two weeks of a US-Taliban peace deal being signed.
The likely thorny negotiations would cover issues including women’s rights, freedom of speech and constitutional changes – and would ultimately decide what a post-war Afghanistan will look like.
Additional reporting by AP