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Reduction Of Violence In Afghanistan Bolsters Hope For Further Peace Agreement

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In Afghanistan, the Taliban continues to hold up its end of a deal with the United States to scale back attacks for one week. If they continue to do so, the Taliban and the U.S. will sign an agreement on Saturday that begins the process of withdrawing American troops. NPR's Diaa Hadid joins me from Kabul.

Hey, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hello, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So they agreed to this last Friday. Is this scaleback (ph) holding? And what exactly does it look like? - because it's not a full cease-fire.

HADID: Right. It's not a full cease-fire. It's an agreement between the United States, the Taliban and Afghan National Security Forces to literally reduce their violence for seven days. And by not calling it a cease-fire, it seems to allow more wiggle room. In case there are sporadic clashes, it can occur without up upturning the whole process. And we've been speaking to Interior Ministry officials and monitoring local media, and it does seem to be relatively quiet right now. There's been a few sporadic attacks. The worst was, in fact, today, where, in the northern province of Balkh, three members of a government-sponsored militia were killed. But so far, there's been nothing that has led to this agreement being halted, so it still does have momentum.

KELLY: And today's incident aside, just hearing that it has been relatively quiet must be so welcome to people there after so many years of violence that they have lived through, so many years of war. What is the reaction there?

HADID: Right. Well, there were definitely flashes of joy. So in the eastern city of Jalalabad, men were dancing in the streets after this was announced. And in Kabul, they were blaring songs about peace from their cars. But at the same time, people are wary. It's been a really long time that this country's been in war. And as, you know, media here keeps reminding people, this is only the second time in two decades that there's even been a partial halt in fighting.

KELLY: So what are the next baby steps that will follow if this partial truce continues to hold?

HADID: Right. So if this continues to hold, the Taliban and the United States - officials from both sides - will meet in the Qatari (ph) capital of Doha to sign an agreement, and that will begin the process of scaling back American troops from the country.

KELLY: And that's on Saturday that we're expecting that.

HADID: Exactly. That's on Saturday. And then - but this deal is tricky, and it's complicated, so the next part after that is that Afghans have to settle the future of their country together between - and that's between the Taliban and a coalition led by the Afghan government. But so far, the sides are pretty far apart. The Taliban seem to be insisting that they want a harsher version of Islamic law imposed than what already exists in this country, and the government says that's not acceptable. Today I spoke to Siddiq Siddiqi. He's the spokesperson for the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and here's what he had to say.

SIDDIQ SIDDIQI: The Taliban has to realize that the country has changed after 30 years when they were here. So the people have changed. That position of Taliban, you know, standing on their strict system of Sharia - that's a very strict vision of themselves - that does not comply anymore with current realities of our Afghan society.

HADID: Right, so what you can hear him there saying is Afghanistan's changed, and he says the Taliban have to accept this Afghanistan. And he says if they don't, they're missing an opportunity, and then they're back to war. So this is a tricky business indeed.

KELLY: NPR's Diaa Hadid reporting there from Kabul on this very fragile scaleback in violence and attacks on the prospects for how and when U.S. troops may begin to come home.

Diaa, thanks so much.

HADID: Thank you, Mary Louise.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLAIRO'S "ALEWIFE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.