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Pact between US, Taliban on reducing violence begins at midnight

ISLAMABAD (Kyodo) -- A seven-day "reduction in violence" pact that the United States and Afghanistan's Taliban have agreed to as a precondition to signing a peace deal began at midnight Friday, culminating in the signing of a peace deal at the end of the month, the two sides said.

    The reduction in violence, which amounts to a de facto ceasefire, reportedly covers the entire country, including Afghan government forces.

    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement earlier in the day that the two sides are making preparations for the signing of a peace agreement on Feb. 29.

    "Upon a successful implementation of this understanding, signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement is expected to move forward," he said.

    Attention is focused on whether the Taliban's leadership is capable of stopping its members from carrying out attacks for seven consecutive days.

    The militant group has expressed its intention to engage in talks with the Afghan government after the peace agreement is signed.

    However, there are several factions in the Taliban, and it is unclear whether orders from its leadership will be followed down the ranks.

    If Taliban terrorism or attacks are confirmed during the period, fighting with the government may reignite, further deteriorating security.

    Pakistan has welcomed the agreement between the two sides and expressed hope for a broader peace deal by the end of the month.

    "We hope that the Afghan parties would now seize the opportunity and work out a comprehensive and inclusive political settlement for durable peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region," a statement by the Foreign Ministry said.

    It also said the country is looking forward to international cooperation toward the repatriation of Afghan refugees. Pakistan has hosted nearly three million refugees from its war-torn neighbor since the former Soviet invasion of Afghanistan beginning in 1979.

    Recent U.S.-Taliban negotiations started in October 2018 and have continued on an intermittent basis. U.S. President Donald Trump has raised hopes for an agreement with the Taliban, saying in an interview last week that there is a "good chance that we'll have a deal," according to U.S. media.

    The U.S. and Afghan governments have been engaged in combat with the Taliban insurgency, even after U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban regime through the 2001 military invasion in Afghanistan.

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