A three-day ceasefire came into effect in Afghanistan on Friday, which could lead to the long-awaited peace talks between the government and the radical Islamic Taliban. Hopes of negotiations were fueled by President Aschraf Ghani’s announcement that the government would release another 500 Taliban.
With the beginning of the fire break, hundreds of believers flocked to the mosques in the capital Kabul. There they were carefully searched by security forces before they were admitted. Nationwide, the ceasefire was apparently initially observed, and there were no reports of violations.
The silence of the weapons had been announced by both sides on the occasion of the Islamic festival of sacrifice Eid al-Adha. It is only the third official ceasefire in Afghanistan in 19 years of war. “It is a historic opportunity for peace – and nobody should break it,” said Semarai Sediki, a teacher at AFP.
Both Ghani and the Taliban had signaled in advance that peace talks could possibly begin immediately after the sacrifice festival, which lasts until Monday inclusive. A prerequisite for this was the release of a total of 5000 Taliban fighters. The government has already released 4,600 fighters, classifying the remaining 400 as “too dangerous”.
Now Ghani said in a speech at the beginning of the sacrifice festival: “To show our goodwill and to advance the peace efforts, we will release 500 Taliban prisoners.” However, they are not fighters who were on the original Taliban list of claims.
The radical Islamic fighters initially did not comment on Ghani’s announcement. So far, they had categorically asked for the remaining 400 men on their list to be released. According to Ghani, a council of elders should now decide on their fate.
The beginning of the ceasefire was overshadowed by a serious attack in which at least 17 people were killed on Thursday in the east of the country. The Taliban denied any involvement.
According to an official US analysis, violence in the Hindu Kush continues to be very high regardless of efforts to make peace negotiations within Afghanistan. “The number of attacks carried out by the enemy is still higher than the historical average,” said a report by the US Inspector General for Reconstruction of Afghanistan, which reports to Congress. The Taliban had recently launched no further attacks on the country’s international troops, but it had repeatedly attacked the Afghan army.
The United States and the Taliban signed the Doha Agreement in February. The goal is to regulate the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan after almost two decades of war. In return, the Taliban are said to reduce violence in Afghanistan and provide guarantees that they will fight the al-Qaeda terror network and the jihadist militia Islamic State (IS). For this, there should be a peace agreement between the government and the Taliban.
At the end of May, the Taliban had already announced a three-day ceasefire to mark the end of Ramadan. Immediately afterwards, the Islamists had again started deadly attacks on the positions of the Afghan armed forces. The Taliban also accused the government of arresting released Taliban fighters. This clearly violates the Doha agreements.