Three-day Afghan ceasefire begins ahead of possible talks

Three-day Afghan ceasefire begins ahead of possible talks

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Kabul: Afghans celebrate Eid al-Fitr on Friday, celebrating a three-day ceasefire between the Taliban and government forces, marking the Muslim Eid prayer. Many people hope that the truce will lead to the end of peace talks and nearly two decades of conflict.

A few hours before the ceasefire took effect, a car bomb killed at least 17 people in the east of the country, highlighting the scale of the challenge ahead, although the Taliban denied any involvement.

The halt in the fighting is bound to continue during the Eid al-Adha, and is only the third official truce in the past 19 years of war.

“We want a permanent ceasefire from the Taliban as they are the ones who paved the way for other terrorist groups to operate in Afghanistan,” Mohammad Tahir, a taxi driver, told AFP after offering Eid prayers at a Kabul mosque.

When the ceasefire began, thousands of worshippers headed to the mosque in the capital, where they were hunted by armed guards and then prayed inside.

No fighting was immediately reported in the country.

Both President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban have stated that peace talks can begin immediately after Eid al-Fitr and have widely called on the warring parties to extend the ceasefire agreement.

According to an agreement signed by the Taliban and the United States in February, the “in-Afghanistan” talks were originally scheduled to start in March, but they were postponed due to political infighting in Kabul and delays in controversial prisoner exchanges.

The exchange will free Kabul of 5,000 Taliban fighters, and the insurgents declared on Thursday night that they have fulfilled their promise to release 1,000 government forces.

So far, Kabul has released at least 4,400 Taliban prisoners.

“The Taliban should surrender”

The US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who led negotiations with the Taliban, is currently visiting regional participants in Kabul, including Ghani, to push for an extension of the ceasefire.

Since the signing of the February agreement, the Taliban have largely failed to attack the city, nor have they attacked the US military.

But they attack the Afghan army and civilians almost daily.

Ghani highlighted the recent casualties this week, saying that since the agreement was signed, more than 3,500 Afghan troops and nearly 800 civilians have been killed.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has attributed most civilian casualties in the first half of 2020 to the Taliban.

“We want extension of ceasefire so that bloodshed ends… We have suffered from the conflict for the last 40 years,” Sharif Ahmad, a shopkeeper told AFP after offering Eid prayers.

Many Afghans are skeptical of what will happen next.

After two previous truces-in 2018 and in May this year-the Taliban immediately returned to the battlefield.

“If they want peace then they should surrender their arms and hold immediate talks with Afghan government,” Kabul resident Farhad Habibi wrote in his Facebook post.

Thursday’s car bomb exploded as crowds shopped ahead of Eid in the city of Puli Alam in Logar province.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the bombing was “unrelated” to the insurgents, and the Islamic State, which has claimed to have launched a series of high-profile attacks on civilians in recent years, did not immediately comment.

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