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US eyes 'enormous political opportunity' as partial truce with Taliban holds

26 Feb 2020 Salaam Times

WASHINGTON -- The United States, voicing optimism about reaching an accord to end the war in Afghanistan as a partial truce held with the Taliban, on Tuesday (February 25) called on Afghan leaders not to scuttle the "enormous opportunity."

The United States plans to sign an agreement with the Taliban on Saturday (February 29) in Qatar if the week-long truce holds.

Five days in, the number of Taliban attacks has fallen dramatically.

Taliban attacks have dropped from an average of 75 a day to about 15 since the truce began on February 22, an Afghan security source told AFP.

"So far the reduction in violence is working -- imperfect, but it's working," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a news conference in Washington.

"We're on the cusp of an enormous, enormous political opportunity," he said.

Pompeo voiced confidence that "voices all across the Afghan political spectrum" including women "will go into the ultimate solution".

The United States was "pretty close" to a deal as two days had gone by with "a minimum of violence", said US President Donald Trump while visiting India.

US Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, also saw the partial truce succeeding.

"We're seeing what we would call a downward trend in violence, which is great for the Afghan people. It's great for the country of Afghanistan," he said in a statement.

Despite the optimism, sporadic violence has continued to claim lives.

"At least nine civilians, including a woman, were wounded when an IED [improvised explosive device] placed in a motorbike exploded in [Police District 6] in Kabul this afternoon," Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said in a tweet Wednesday (February 26).

The Taliban denied any involvement.

Inauguration delayed

The partial truce and the potential agreement came after Afghanistan announced the results of last year's presidential elections.

"The United States notes the announcement on February 18, 2020, by the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan on the results of the presidential election held September 28, 2019 in favor of President Ashraf Ghani," the State Department said Tuesday in a statement.

"The Afghan people want peace. It is time to focus not on electoral politics, but on taking steps toward a lasting peace, ending the war with the Taliban, and finding a formula for a political settlement that can serve the interests of all of this country’s citizens through intra-Afghan negotiations we expect will begin in March," it added.

Ghani's office said Wednesday it was postponing the February 27 planned presidential inauguration ceremony until March 9.

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad welcomed the decision.

"As the electoral process has concluded, President Ghani, as the declared winner, and other leaders should ensure that the new government is inclusive and reflects the aspirations of all Afghans," he said.

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