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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - KABUL — The Taliban have offered a brief cease-fire to the US, two insurgent sources said Thursday, a move which could allow for the resumption of talks seeking a deal for Washington to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
Washington has for weeks been calling on the militants to reduce violence, posing it as a condition for resuming formal negotiations on an agreement that would see US troops begin to leave the country in return for security guarantees, after a near two-decade fight.
"It is an offer for a cease-fire either for seven or 10 days," a senior Taliban official who requested anonymity told AFP, adding that the offer was made to US negotiators in Doha.
"It has been finalized and given to the Americans. It is going to pave the way for an agreement."
A second insurgent source, based in Pakistan, confirmed that the offer had been handed to the US.
The Taliban have yet to release an official statement, and Washington has not said whether it has received any offer from the insurgents or what its response will be.
The Taliban and the US had been negotiating the deal for a year, and were on the brink of an announcement in September 2019 when President Donald Trump abruptly declared the process "dead", citing Taliban violence.
Talks were later restarted between the two sides in December in Qatar, but were paused again following an attack near the Bagram military base in Afghanistan, which is run by the US.
On Saturday, two Americans were killed in a Taliban-claimed bomb blast targeting a US forces vehicle in southern Kandahar.
The insurgents' offer, if accepted by the Americans, could see the negotiations begin again.
Graeme Smith, a senior consultant with International Crisis Group, called the reports of a temporary cease-fire a "positive signal", saying a recent reduction of attacks in urban centers has added weight to the process.
"The Taliban have been sending an even bigger message with their actions in recent months. Two months have passed with no major Taliban attacks in any urban zone. That pause in attacks on cities is unprecedented over the last dozen years," said Smith.
The Taliban have only observed one cease-fire in their nearly two decade fight with the US, when the insurgents agreed to a brief three-day truce in June 2018 to mark Eid, the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
It saw Taliban fighters celebrating with ordinary Afghans in the streets, sharing ice creams and posing for selfies, raising hopes of a post-conflict Afghanistan.
Many analysts argued that the cease-fire proved the Taliban had widespread control over their rank and file fighters — although it was only with Afghan forces, not the US.
The claim from the insurgent sources came hours after Pakistan's foreign minister said the Taliban has shown "a willingness" to reduce violence.
"Today, positive progress has been made, the Taliban have shown their willingness to reduce the violence, which was a demand... it's a step towards the peace agreement," said Shah Mehmood Qureshi in a video statement.
He gave no further details.
Islamabad has helped facilitate the talks between the militants and Washington.
Pakistan was one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban regime, and its shadowy military establishment — particularly the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) — is widely believed to back the bloody insurgency in Afghanistan.
Islamabad denies the accusation.
Any agreement with the Taliban is expected to have two main pillars — an American withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a commitment by the insurgents not to offer sanctuary to militants.
The Taliban's relationship with Al-Qaeda was the main reason cited for the US invasion nearly 18 years ago.
A deal would then hopefully pave the way for intra-Afghan talks. Many observers agree that the war can no longer be won militarily, and that the only route to a lasting peace in Afghanistan is for an agreement between the Taliban and the US-backed government in Kabul.
The Taliban have until now refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which they consider an illegitimate regime, raising fears that fighting will continue regardless of any deal ironed out with the Americans. — AFP
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