ISLAMABAD - The Taliban claim they, not the U.S., originated the pending proposal for a three-month reduction in violence, or RIV, to “create a conducive atmosphere” for intra-Afghan peace negotiations, two Taliban officials told VOA Saturday.
“We have floated a plan under which all related sides will reduce violence. But this is not a cease-fire,” Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem said. He did not offer more details.
Another Taliban official said the proposal has been under discussion between the United States and the Taliban in Qatar for a while.
“Both sides even held further discussions during a recent meeting in Doha between the Taliban and the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad,” the Taliban official said on condition of anonymity.
Taliban officials, other than their official spokesmen, are not allowed to talk to media, so they only share information on condition of anonymity.
The idea first came to light earlier this month in a letter from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The letter was leaked to the media.
“We have prepared a revised proposal for a 90-day Reduction-in-Violence, which is intended to prevent a Spring Offensive by the Taliban and to coincide with our diplomatic efforts to support a political settlement between the parties,” Blinken said in the letter.
The Spring Offensive is when the Taliban renew their attacks after a lull during the harsh winters. In a conference on Afghanistan hosted by Russia in Moscow last week, the U.S., Russia, China, and Pakistan jointly called on the Taliban to forego the Spring Offensive this year.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said Sunday they were considering the idea.
“There is still a month to go before the formal announcement of our Spring Offensive,” Mujahid said. “We are waiting to see the progress in the political process. But if negotiations [with Afghan government and others] do not progress, then we will decide in a month whether to launch the Offensive.”
The Taliban are under tremendous international pressure to reduce violence and declare a cease-fire. The U.S., NATO, and others have called the level of violence in Afghanistan unacceptably high.
However, the militant group has been hesitant to declare a cease-fire, claiming that the issue will be discussed during its negotiations with an Afghan government-sanctioned team, labeled the intra-Afghan negotiations.
A three-month RIV, if agreed to, would be a major confidence-building measure and the first in 20 years of war.
The Taliban previously declared a weeklong RIV before signing an agreement with the U.S. in Doha in February of last year, and a three-day ceasefire before that on the occasion of Muslim festival of Eid.
The Taliban official warned that the Taliban would have the right to react if the United States “violated” the Doha agreement and kept its troops in Afghanistan beyond the May 1 deadline set in the agreement.
“We have not killed a single American soldier since the Doha agreement was signed in the presence of representatives of many countries,” the official said. “If they violate the agreement, we will have the right to defend our people. Such a decision will also complicate the ongoing negotiations. The U.S. must keep in mind the sensitivity of the situation. The military option was used for 20 years and the U.S. must think before violating the agreement.”
Naeem also said all articles of the Doha agreement should be implemented, including the withdrawal of foreign troops, and the U.S. should leave Afghanistan in accordance with the agreement.
The Trump administration signed the deal, but President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing it. Biden recently told U.S. broadcast network ABC it was “not a very solidly negotiated deal.”
However, Biden also supports the idea of bringing the troops home and has indicated that the U.S., even if it decides to stay beyond May 1, would not stay for too long.
The U.S. was forced to consider staying in Afghanistan beyond the negotiated deadline due to an increase in violence, lack of progress in peace negotiations between Taliban and Afghan government, and a wave of targeted assassinations of human rights activists, journalists, and government officials.
The Taliban and an Afghan government team started intra-Afghan negotiations in September but have not made much progress. The two sides have not agreed on an agenda for the negotiations.
The Taliban official claimed there had been “progress” in the Qatar negotiations that he said will resume within days as the delegates have returned from Moscow.
The official said the Taliban team in Moscow met the Afghan government team Friday and agreed to “accelerate” the talks in Qatar.