Kabul – Millions of Afghans are hoping that America’s longest war fought in their country will end on Saturday as U.S. and Taliban negotiators are expected to sign a deal to allow a U.S. troop reduction and a permanent ceasefire.
Hours before the deal, the Taliban ordered all its fighters in Afghanistan “to refrain from any kind of attack … for the happiness of the nation.”
“The biggest thing is that we hope the U.S. remain committed to their promises during the negotiation and peace deal,” said Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the hardline Islamist group.
Mujahid said it was “irritating and provocative” that foreign military aircraft continued to fly over Taliban territory, but militia fighters were following the order to stand-down.
A deal promises an end to violence that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington by the Afghanistan-based al Qaeda militant group.
“Today is a monumental day for Afghanistan,” the U.S. embassy in Kabul said on Twitter.
“It is about making peace and crafting a common brighter future. We stand with Afghanistan.”
A 31-member Taliban delegation was in Qatar to oversee the signing by their political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
Foreign ministers and bureaucrats from Pakistan, Indonesia, Uzbekistan arrived at the venue ahead of the signing ceremony between the warring sides that is slated to take place at the Sheraton hotel in Qatar’s capital of Doha.
Photographs from the venue showed a large banner stating “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan” placed in a conference room adjoining the hotel. Security has been tightened outside the hotel as hotel guests, journalists and government officials thronged the lobby.
Security experts said the deal is a foreign policy gamble for U.S. President Donald Trump and would give the Taliban international legitimacy.
For millions of Afghans the deal could open a possibility to end the ongoing struggle of coping with fear, anxiety and violence.
“Peace is extremely simple and my country deserves it. Today is the day when maybe we will see a positive change,” said Javed Hassan, 38, a school teacher living on the outskirts of the capital, Kabul.
Hassan’s children were killed in a bomb blast carried out by the Taliban in 2018. Since then, he has been writing letters to world leaders urging them to end the Afghan war that has dominated the landscape of the land-locked country.
The deal could be the first step towards resetting Afghanistan’s future as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to witness the signing of the agreement and prepare the ground for a political settlement between the warring sides.
America’s top diplomat will stand with political leaders of the Taliban, Afghanistan’s former rulers who sheltered Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda militant network until 2001 as he plotted and conducted the 9/11 attacks.
A statement from Trump on Friday said Pompeo would be present for the signing of the deal that will pave way for U.S. troop numbers to drop to 8,600 from about 13,000 in the weeks following the deal.
Further reductions of Western forces will hinge on the Taliban adhering to a “reduction in violence” pledge, a condition that will be assessed by the United States.
But prospects for war-torn Afghanistan’s future are uncertain. The agreement sets the stage for peace talks involving Afghan factions, which are likely to be complicated. Under the deal, the Taliban wants 5,000 fighters to be released from Afghan-run jails, but it’s not clear whether the Afghan government will agree.
There are also questions about whether Taliban fighters loyal to hardline Islamist splinter groups will be willing to adhere to the reduction in violence agreement.
Some senior commanders of the Taliban who arrived in Doha for the signing ceremony said they will ensure that the U.S. and Afghan governments accept all the conditions laid down by the group that controls about 40% of Afghanistan, according to Afghan defence officials.
Sources in the Taliban earlier this month said they were prepared to launch a spring offensive and had recruited more than 6,000 fighters and suicide bombers if the agreement collapses.