The Edition


Three-day Afghan ceasefire begins ahead of possible talks

31 July 2020, MVT 10:28
Afghan Mujahedeen fighters are pictured in Khost on April 4, 1991. - The garrison city of Khost fell to the resistance on March 31 after a fierce 17-day fight with government troops. PHOTO: ZUBAIR MIR / AFP
31 July 2020, MVT 10:28

The Taliban and Afghan security forces began a three-day ceasefire Friday -- a rare respite that many hope will lead to peace talks and an eventual end to almost two decades of grinding conflict.

A car bomb that killed at least 17 people in the country's east just hours before the ceasefire came into effect underlined the scale of the challenge that lies ahead, although the Taliban denied any involvement.

The halt in fighting is slated to last for the duration of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha and is only the third official truce in nearly 19 years of war.

"It is a historic chance for peace -- and no one should spoil it," Zemarai Sediqqi, a 26-year-old school teacher, told AFP.

"I grew up in this fighting, it is enough. Now is the time for a lasting and permanent peace in Afghanistan."

President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban have both signalled that peace talks could begin straight after Eid, and there are widespread calls for the warring parties to extend the ceasefire.

Under a deal signed by the Taliban and the US in February, "intra-Afghan" talks were slated to start in March, but hit delays amid political infighting in Kabul and as a contentious prisoner exchange dragged on.

That swap, which will see Kabul free 5,000 Taliban fighters and the insurgents release 1,000 government forces, is now nearly complete.

US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who led negotiations with the Taliban, is currently visiting regional players including Ghani in Kabul to push for a ceasefire extension.

Since signing the deal, the Taliban have largely refrained from attacking cities and have not hit US troops.

But they have conducted near-daily attacks on Afghan forces and civilians.

Highlighting the recent toll, Ghani this week said more than 3,500 Afghan troops and nearly 800 civilians had been killed since the deal was signed.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has blamed the Taliban for the bulk of civilian casualties during the first half of 2020.

"We want a permanent ceasefire by the Taliban so that we don't see a single other Afghan killed in this war," said Ahmad Jawed, a university graduate.

"This truce gives the message that we are nearing intra-Afghan talks... I wish these talks lead to a durable peace in Afghanistan."

Many Afghans are leery about what comes next.

After two previous truces -- in 2018 and 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 the blast had "nothing to do" with the insurgents, while the extremist Islamic State group, which has claimed a string of high-profile attacks on civilians in recent years, did not immediately comment.

Kabul, Afghanistan | AFP