WASHINGTON: The United States voiced optimism on Tuesday about reaching an accord to end the war in Afghanistan as a partial truce held with the Taliban, warning rival leaders in the Kabul government not to scuttle the “enormous opportunity.”

The United States plans to sign an agreement with the Taliban on Saturday in Qatar if the week-long truce holds. Four days in, the number of Taliban attacks has fallen dramatically.

“So far the reduction in violence is working — imperfect, but it’s working,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a news conference in Washington.

“We’re on the cusp of an enormous, enormous political opportunity,” he said.

The historic deal would see the US withdraw thousands of troops, winding down America’s longest war which was launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks but has grown increasingly unpopular at home.

The Taliban would then open negotiations with the internationally recognised government in Kabul, which the Islamist militants have refused to recognise.

But the administration is in disarray, with President Ashraf Ghani last week declared the winner of a new term in elections but his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah, rejecting the results and vowing to form his own government.

The United States has conspicuously not congratulated Ghani, in contrast to the European Union and the Kabul government’s regional ally India.

In a statement Tuesday, the State Department said only that it “notes” the election announcement. It said Ghani had agreed to postpone his inauguration which was scheduled on Thursday.

Abdullah’s spokesman, Fraidoon Khwazoon, said that both Abdullah and Ghani were delaying swearing-in ceremonies planned for Thursday by two weeks.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2020