As the United States and Taliban get closer to signing a peace deal in Doha, Qatar which has been negotiated over nearly 18 months, the US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg are visiting Kabul on Saturday, a government official confirmed.
Esper and Stoltenberg will announce a joint declaration with President Ashraf Ghani, according to presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.
The US-Taliban deal is expected to be signed in Doha on Saturday, Feb. 29. A joint declaration will be announced in Kabul simultaneously.
The signing will follow a weeklong reduction in violence period that started on Feb. 22 and that ends on Friday night.
According to government numbers, as well as information collected by TOLOnews, security incidents – mostly initiated by the Taliban – have been significantly reduced over the last week.
Sources say another round of a reduction in violence will follow– if the two sides succeed in signing the peace deal.
Meanwhile, the NATO chief in a press conference in Brussels on Friday said that the agreement between the US and the Taliban will be an important step for lasting peace in Afghanistan.
“We are closer to a peace agreement than ever before in Afghanistan. And NATO will continue to support the efforts to find a peaceful and negotiated solution. We have seen a significant reduction in violence in Afghanistan over the last days. And therefore we are also very close to the signing of an agreement between the United States and the Taliban. This will be only the first, but very important first step towards a lasting peace agreement in Afghanistan,” said Stoltenberg.
“Tomorrow (Saturday) the US Defense Secretary and NATO Secretary General will arrive here and will announce a joint declaration with the Afghan government regarding the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and about the support to the Afghan security and defense forces, and overall, they will urge commitments by the international community, particularly the US and NATO to the Afghan government,” said Dawa Khan Meenapal, deputy spokesman to President Ashraf Ghani.
In addition, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai has cautiously welcomed the recent developments regarding the Afghan peace process.
“We should be very vigilant so that there is no foreign agenda behind the peace, and we want peace,” said Karzai.
This comes a day after a six-member delegation from the Afghan government, entirely chosen by President Ashraf Ghani, travelled to Doha to meet with the Taliban right after the US-Taliban deal, which is scheduled to be signed on Saturday, sources said.
But the Taliban have said that they will not meet this delegation.
“This team will not participate in the ceremony (US-Taliban peace agreement signing ceremony), but it is aimed to have some kind of contacts, and the Taliban themselves had requested it, so now if they (Taliban) want it or reject it, it is their problem. But our international partners wanted a contact group to be created to go to Qatar, and now lets see how much contact can made,” said Sediqi.
“it’s a necessity for peace that there is an interim government that is acceptable to all parties,” said Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of Hizb-e-Islami party.
Although the government did not provide any details about the structure of the peace--negotiating team, a source told TOLOnews that the delegation will be entirely a government-chosen team, and will share the details of their discussions.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US is watching closely to see if Iran takes more active measures to undermine peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.