Afghan Taliban considering Eid holiday ceasefire

Taliban militants and Afghan security forces have been engaged in heavy fighting in Ghazni province over recent days. (AFP)
Updated 15 August 2018
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Afghan Taliban considering Eid holiday ceasefire

  • No decision had been taken but senior leaders would meet either on Tuesday evening or Wednesday to discuss the option
  • In January, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani offered the Taliban peace talks without conditions

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: The Taliban are considering announcing a ceasefire during next week’s Eid holiday, despite heavy fighting seen over recent days in the central Afghan city of Ghazni, two senior Taliban officials said.
They said no decision had been taken but senior leaders would meet either on Tuesday evening or Wednesday to discuss the option, which was being pushed by some Muslim states and other parties with good relations to the movement.
If agreed, it may be announced in Ghazni province, where the Taliban say they control most of the districts around the provincial capital.
Prior to the fighting in Ghazni, which has killed and wounded hundreds, there had been strong hopes of a repeat of the three-day truce during the Eid Al-Fitr holiday in June, the most concrete sign of progress toward peace since talks between the government and Taliban broke down in 2015.
The government said last month it was considering offering a ceasefire during Eid Al-Adha, the annual feast of sacrifice, which begins next week but has so far not confirmed the offer and there has been no response from the Taliban.
“Our friends are advising us that we should announce a four-day ceasefire for the upcoming Eid Al-Adha so that the people of Afghanistan can peacefully celebrate their Eid like they did two months ago,” one of the Taliban officials said.
“As usual there would be divided opinion on a ceasefire like we faced last time during Eid-al Fitr but our supreme leader Sheikh Haibatullah Akhunzada would then play his role and would either announce the ceasefire or may ask the fighters to continue their fight,” said the official, a member of the Shoura, or leadership council.
Another Taliban leader said he hoped their leadership might announce a ceasefire as last time it had helped win hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan, with unarmed fighters and soldiers seen mingling on the streets of Kabul and other cities.
“The demand is for one week but our leadership may announce four days of ceasefire to enable the Afghan people to buy sacrificial animals and celebrate Eid Al-Adha in a peaceful environment,” he said.
Asked who the “friends” were, the first official said the Taliban had friends and allies in many parts of the world.
In January, President Ashraf Ghani offered the Taliban peace talks without conditions and the US has dropped its previous refusal to talk to the Taliban, saying it would be willing to participate in an Afghan-led process.
Taliban officials say they have spoken directly to the top US official on Afghanistan and Pakistan in Qatar, where the Taliban maintains a political office and a delegation traveled to Uzbekistan this month to discuss issues including peace.


Nigeria’s candidates blame each other in surprise vote delay

Nigeria's main opposition party presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar speaks to reporters, after the postponement of the presidential election in Yola, in Adamawa State, Nigeria February 16, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 30 min 6 sec ago
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Nigeria’s candidates blame each other in surprise vote delay

  • The party backing top opposition challenger Atiku Abubakar accused President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration of “instigating this postponement” with the aim of ensuring a low turnout

KANO, Nigeria: Nigeria’s top candidates on Saturday condemned the surprise last-minute decision to delay the presidential election for a week until Feb. 23, blaming each other but appealing to Africa’s largest democracy for calm.
The decision, announced five hours before polls were to open, is a costly one, with analysts at SBM Intelligence estimating an economic hit of $2 billion, plus a blow to the country’s reputation. Authorities now must decide what to do with already delivered voting materials in a tense atmosphere where some electoral facilities in recent days have been torched.
Electoral commission chairman Mahmood Yakubu told observers, diplomats and others that the delay had nothing to do with insecurity or political influence. He blamed “very trying circumstances” including bad weather affecting flights and the fires at three commission offices in an apparent “attempt to sabotage our preparations.”
If the vote had continued as planned, polling units could not have opened at the same time nationwide. “This is very important to public perceptions of elections as free, fair and credible,” Yakubu said, adding that as late as 2 a.m. they were still confident the election could go ahead.
The new Feb. 23 election date is “without equivocation” final, he said.
Bitter voters in the capital, Abuja, and elsewhere who traveled home to cast their ballots, including from Nigeria’s vast diaspora, said they could not afford to wait another seven days, and warned that election apathy could follow. Some anguished over rescheduling weddings, exams and other milestones.
If the electoral commission knew about complications, why wait until the final moment to announce a delay, asked Godspower Egbenekama, spokesman for the Gbaramatu kingdom in Delta state in the restive south. “This shows that someone is pulling the strings from somewhere.”
The party backing top opposition challenger Atiku Abubakar accused President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration of “instigating this postponement” with the aim of ensuring a low turnout. It urged Nigerians to turn out in greater numbers a week from now.
“You can postpone an election, but you cannot postpone destiny,” Abubakar tweeted.
Buhari said he was “deeply disappointed” after the electoral commission had “given assurances, day after day and almost hour after hour that they are in complete readiness for the elections.” His statement appealed for calm and asserted that his administration does not interfere in the commission’s work.
A spokesman for the president’s campaign committee, Festus Keyamo, accused Abubakar’s party of causing the delay to try to slow Buhari’s momentum.
But a ruling party campaign director in Delta state, Goodnews Agbi, said it was better to give the commission time to conduct a credible vote instead of rushing into a sham one “that the whole world will criticize later.”
A civic group monitoring the election, the Situation Room, blasted the “needless tension and confusion” and called on political parties to avoid incitement and misinformation.
Nigeria’s more than 190 million people anticipate a close race between Buhari and Abubakar, a billionaire former vice president. Both have pledged to work for a peaceful election even as supporters, including high-level officials, have caused alarm with warnings against foreign interference and allegations of rigging.
When Buhari came to power in 2015 — after a six-week election delay blamed on extremist insecurity — he made Nigerian history with the first defeat of an incumbent president. The vote was hailed as one of the most transparent and untroubled ever in Africa’s most populous country, which has seen deadly post-election violence in the past.
Now Buhari could become the second incumbent to be unseated. This election is a referendum on his record on insecurity, the economy and corruption, all of which he has been criticized by some Nigerians for doing too little too slowly.