Kabul, Feb 22 (IANS) Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani has said that a seven-day reduction in violence promised by the Taliban will determine the government’s next steps in country’s peace process.
He said in a televised speech to the nation: “The coming steps regarding the peace process will depend on the results and our assessment from the week of reduction in violence.”
“It will clarify the direction and road for our future steps in the peace process.”
The Taliban has announced a decrease in hostilities in an agreement with the United States as a preliminary step to signing a peace deal with Washington on February 29, Efe news reported.
Any future treaty is expected to stipulate a gradual withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, which is seen as the phase before the start of intra-Afghan peace negotiations.
Ghani said Afghan security forces will be “on high alert” during the week-long de-escalation, which is due to begin at midnight, and will be closely monitoring the situation.
He said security forces will only act defensively if they came under attack but that operations against other terrorist groups will continue.
Ghani said the government had demanded a full ceasefire but that the reduction was “an important step toward achieving a lasting ceasefire and peace”.
He also reiterated that the peace process will be led by the Afghan government.
Washington and Kabul had stipulated the reduction of violence as a necessary step before any peace deal is signed.
They consider it proof of the Taliban’s ability to control its fighters and demonstrate its commitment to peace.
Ghani was this week declared the winner of presidential elections held in September.
His main challenger Abdullah Abdullah, currently the country’s chief executive, has also declared victory for his party and announced he will form his own government.
Abdullah said in a statement that the successful implementation of the partial truce is a “necessary stepping stone toward intra-Afghan negotiations, a permanent ceasefire and a durable settlement acceptable to our citizens”.
“As a responsible side, we will do our utmost to facilitate, cooperate and justly resolve all outstanding issues to build consensus that engages Afghans in peacemaking,” he added.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid called on its fighters to “strictly observe” the reduction in violence but warned they would be ready if Afghan security forces violate the agreement.
“Mujahideen are not allowed to visit enemy-controlled areas during the coming seven days,” he said.
He added that “all Mujahideen will receive (new) guidance and instructions as per the agreement and will be acting based on those instructions” after the end of the week.