ISLAMABAD - After difficult negotiations of eighteen months, the US and Taliban finally sealed a historic peace agreement in Doha Saturday that could lead to full withdrawal of foreign soldiers from Afghanistan and bring an end to the 18-year-old war.

The deal was signed by US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Leader of Taliban delegation Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in the Qatari capital Doha.

The signing ceremony was witnessed by Qatari Emir, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and his counterparts from seven countries and representatives from 50 countries.

Speaking on the occasion, Leader of Taliban delegation Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar expressed full commitment to the agreement by his side.

He said: “As a political force we want to maintain positive relations with all neighbours, regional countries and international community who played a key role in this agreement. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar maintained they wanted unity and prosperity of their country and for this purpose he urged all factions to make this deal working.

He especially thanked Pakistan for its assistance and support in making the deal a success.

He also appreciated the role of China, Russia, Iran, Uzbekistan, Norway, Indonesia and other countries in supporting the peace process.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in his address said the agreement was true test of the effort to give peace a chance. He said it will ensure that Afghanistan never becomes a base of terrorists again.

Mike Pompeo said reduction in violence is not perfect, but at least Taliban demonstrated that when they have the will to be peaceful, they can be.

Appreciating the US Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, he said he played a critical role in making the negotiations successful.

He urged Taliban to sit with the Afghan government to determine the course for future of Afghanistan. A day ahead of signing ceremony, Mike Pompeo had warned Tehran to refrain from making efforts to derail Afghan peace process.

Earlier, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani acknowledged that signing of this agreement became possible after phased negotiations and this would lead to the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.

He said: The state of Qatar, its leadership and people are pleased to witness the signing of peace agreement that will lead to fruitful and successful relations between the two sides. The agreement seeks a full withdrawal of roughly 16,000 foreign soldiers from Afghanistan over the next 14 months; many believed intra-Afghan talks may be much more complicated.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has welcomed signing of a peace agreement between Afghan Taliban and the United States.

In a tweet on Saturday night, Prime Minister Imran Khan said that Pakistan welcomes the Doha peace agreement signed between the US and Afghan Taliban and committed to playing its role in ensuring the agreement holds and succeeds in bringing peace to Afghanistan.

Imran Khan said: “This is the start of a peace and reconciliation process to end decades of war and suffering from the Afghan people.”

The prime minister said he had always maintained that a political solution, no matter how complex, is the only meaningful path to peace.

He said now all stakeholders have to ensure that spoilers are kept at bay.

He said that his prayers for peace for the Afghan people who have suffered four decades of bloodshed.

Earlier, talking to media persons after the signing ceremony in Doha, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the peace agreement carried immense significance both in symbolism and substance for Afghanistan, the region and beyond.

Foreign Minister Qureshi said: “The today’s ceremony has, once again, vindicated Pakistan’s long-held stance that there is no military solution of the Afghan conflict.”

He reiterated that Pakistan would continue its policy of supporting the Afghan people in their efforts to achieve lasting peace, stability and development in Afghanistan. He also appreciated personal contribution of Emir of Qatar to this process.

The foreign minister said that Intra-Afghan negotiations would be the next logical step after today’s event.

Redrawing the international community’s attention to Afghan refugees in Pakistan, the foreign minister underscored the need to assist the Afghan government in creating an enabling environment for the return of the refugees to their homeland with dignity and honour.

On the sidelines of the signing ceremony, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi while talking to his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu said peace agreement between the United States and Afghan Taliban would help bring peace and stability to the region.

 

He also extended condolences over the deaths of Turkish soldiers in Syria.

Qureshi also expressed gratitude for continued and unflinching Turkish support to Pakistan on Kashmir issue.

He said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an fully supported Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir issue during his address to joint session of the Parliament in Islamabad.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide also called on Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Doha.

During the meeting, they agreed to further strengthen bilateral ties in all areas of mutual interest.

The two foreign ministers appreciated the positive developments in their relations.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi apprised Norwegian counterpart of the unilateral steps taken by India to change the controversial status of Occupied Kashmir.

Ine Marie Eriksen appreciated the role of Pakistan in Afghan peace process.

The Secretary General of Shanghai Cooperation Organization Vladimir Norov also called on the Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Doha.

Talking on this occasion, the foreign minister said Pakistan would continue to play positive role for promoting peace and stability in the region. He lauded efforts of the SCO in strengthening of trade cooperation among member states.

In Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani in a media briefing in Kabul on Saturday welcomed the signing of peace agreement that would lead to enduring peace in his country.

He said; “We value the cooperation of Pakistan and other Islamic countries in bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan.”

Appreciating the role of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Ashraf Ghani hoped that all parties would abide by the agreement. He said Afghan people have rendered great sacrifices for peace.

The current generation of Afghans gave their lives for the generations to come.

He said 10 million people of Afghanistan had to migrate during the last two decades.

On the other hand, Taliban ordered halt to attacks ahead of US agreement in Doha today.

Talking to media in Kabul, Taliban’s spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid said, all fighters are ordered to refrain from any kind of attack ahead of signing of an agreement with the US diplomats aimed at bringing peace to Afghanistan.

He also expressed hope that the US remains committed to its promises during the negotiation and peace deal.

Under the agreement, the Taliban promise not to let extremists use the country as a staging ground for attacking the US or its allies.

In a related development, NATO pledged to adjust the coalition troop levels in the first phase too, bringing down Nato’s numbers to about 12,000 from roughly 16,000 troops at present.

“We went in together in 2001, we are going to adjust [troop levels] together and when the time is right, we are going to leave together, but we are only going to leave when conditions are right,” Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who was in Kabul on Saturday, told reporters.

The Nato Secretary General heralded the agreement as a “first step to lasting peace”.

“The way to peace is long and hard. We have to be prepared for setbacks, spoilers, there is no easy way to peace but this is an important first step,” the Norwegian former prime minister said.

Since the US-led invasion in response to in response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York President George W. Bush had ordered bombing on Afghanistan that ousted the Taliban.

Since then the United States has spent more than $1 trillion in fighting and rebuilding in Afghanistan.

About 2,400 US soldiers have been killed, along with unknown tens of thousands of Afghan troops, Taliban fighters and Afghan civilians.

On Friday, the US President Donald Trump said that if the Taliban and Afghan government live up to the commitments in the agreement, “we will have a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home.”

In a statement released by the White House, Trump said: “These commitments represent an important step to a lasting peace in a new Afghanistan, free from Al-Qaeda, ISIS and any other terrorist group that would seek to bring us harm.”

Commenting on the landmark agreement, experts have called upon the Afghans to stand up and take the destiny of their country in their hands; erstwhile they would lose this historic opportunity if they failed to bury their hatchet. They warned that India which from the outset has been opposing such an agreement might try to create wedges among the Afghans to spoil the peace process.