The Australian government has welcomed the announcement that the US and the Taliban have signed an agreement on steps towards a political settlement in Afghanistan, and that the Afghan government and US representatives in Kabul have agreed on next steps.
The agreement includes direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, including on a permanent ceasefire, and measures to prevent international terrorist organisations including al-Qaeda and Daesh from operating in Afghanistan.
In a joint media release, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne and Minsiter for Defence Linda Reynolds stated, "Australia supports agreements and processes that aim to bring peace to Afghanistan after decades of conflict.
"We call on the Taliban to continue to reduce violence and enter into negotiations with the Afghan government in good faith.
"Terrorism will continue to present a threat to Afghanistan. The security and stability of Afghanistan will be vital in containing the threat of international terrorism, as well as addressing people and narcotics smuggling.
"We are proud of the achievements of the Australian Defence Force, diplomats and aid and other officials in Afghanistan over many years, and acknowledge the invaluable service of these men and women, and the resilient support of their families since 2001. We pay our deepest respects to the 41 ADF members killed in action."
The peace agreement is made in four parts and includes:
1. Guarantees and enforcement mechanisms that will prevent the use of the soil of Afghanistan by any group or individual against the security of the United States and its allies.
2. Guarantees, enforcement mechanisms and announcement of a timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan.
3. After the announcement of guarantees for a complete withdrawal of foreign forces and timeline in the presence of international witnesses, and guarantees and the announcement in the presence of international witnesses that Afghan soil will not be used against the security of the United States and its allies, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognised by the United Statesas a state and is known as the Taliban will start intra-Afghan negotiations with Afghan sides on March 10, 2020, which corresponds to Rajab 15, 1441 on the Hijri Lunar calendar and Hoot 20, 1398 on the Hijri Solar calendar.
4. A permanent and comprehensive ceasefire will be an item on the agenda of the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations. The participants of intra-Afghan negotiations will discuss the date and modalities of a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, including joint implementation mechanisms, which will be announced along with the completion and agreement over the future political road-map of Afghanistan.
While this agreement is a major step towards the cessation of the war and the end of Western involvement in Afghanistan, there are already cracks appearing in the agreement, with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani already rejecting a major part of the peace plan: a substantial prisoner swap.
The draft deal states:
"Up to five thousand (5,000) prisoners of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognised by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and up to one thousand (1,000) prisoners of the other side will be released by March 10, 2020."
"The government of Afghanistan has made no commitment to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners," President Ghani told reporters in Kabul on Sunday, a day after the accord was signed in Qatar's capital, Doha.
"It is not in the authority of the United States to decide, they are only a facilitator."
The media release from the Australian government also confirmed Australia's commitment to continued efforts in Afghanistan, stating, "The Australian government will continue to work closely alongside our international partners – including through the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission – to ensure our contribution remains appropriate to addressing the challenges facing Afghanistan and preserving the gains of the last 19 years, including the empowerment of women and girls."