KABUL: The Taliban on Monday declared a three-day ceasefire for the upcoming Eid Al-Fitr holiday this week amid an uptick in violence across Afghanistan and as Washington ramps up its withdrawal of remaining troops from the country.
In a Twitter statement, Taliban Spokesman Mohammed Naeem wrote that “all Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate are instructed to halt all offensive operations against the enemy countrywide from the first till the third day of Eid. But if the enemy conducts any assault or attack [against] you during these three days, stand ready to robustly protect and defend yourselves and your territory.”
Hours after the Taliban’s announcement, President Ashraf Ghani instructed all Afghan forces to observe the three-day Eid ceasefire as well. However, he reiterated that the Taliban’s violence had “no legitimacy” as international troops were leaving Afghanistan. He also called for a permanent ceasefire in the country.
Kabul has long insisted on a long-term and nationwide ceasefire ahead of peace talks with the Taliban to end a protracted conflict with Washington by recalling all foreign troops by Sept. 11 — the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the Twin Towers in the US — based on a directive issued by President Joe Biden in April.
Initially, all foreign troops were expected to exit the country by May 1 — the original deadline set by the Taliban before signing a landmark deal with Washington in Doha, Qatar, more than a year ago.
The Taliban have blamed Washington for violating the key condition of the Doha accord, which also pushes Kabul and the Taliban to hold talks and draw a political roadmap for a future government in Afghanistan.
Based on the deal — which also required the Taliban to cut ties with Al-Qaeda and other militants and to not use Afghan soil to launch attacks on any other country, including the US — the insurgents had halted attacks on foreign troops, but not on Afghan forces.
So far, the Taliban have refused to agree to a permanent truce but said that they could be a key part of US-sponsored talks, which have faced a deadlock since they were first launched in Doha last year.
Fraidoon Khwazoon, a spokesman for Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, which heads the Afghan peace process, said that the Taliban’s call for a three-day ceasefire was a “good opportunity” to boost the peace process.
“We have hailed this, and the ceasefire is a demand of the people of Afghanistan too. We hope that this will be used as a good opportunity for a permanent and nationwide ceasefire and a continuation of talks,” he told Arab News.
Eid Al-Fitr marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and, based on the sighting of the new moon, is expected to begin in Afghanistan on Wednesday.
Under the ceasefire guidelines, the Taliban will avoid visiting cities in government-held areas. During the truce observed in 2018, when both sides announced a ceasefire, hundreds of Taliban fighters visited various cities, including Kabul, to meet relatives and partake in the Eid festivities.
However, the latest announcement for a ceasefire follows weeks of clashes between the Taliban and government forces, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of men from both sides, including dozens of civilians.
While the Taliban have halted attacks on US-led troops based on the accord signed with Washington in Doha, there has been an increase in assaults on government forces, with both sides blaming each other for the escalation in violence.
“The latest fighting damaged the Taliban’s image a lot, with people across the country calling for a permanent ceasefire,” Wahidullah Ghazikhail, a political analyst based in Kabul, told Arab News.
“To repair that damage, the Taliban pre-empted the government and are trying to show to the people that they want peace and stability, and announcing ceasefire is a good example of it,” he added.
The three-day ceasefire comes two days after bombings outside a school in the western part of Kabul killed at least 68, mostly students, and injured more than 165 others.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet, even as President Ghani accused the Taliban of staging the attack.
Taliban insurgents, who have been fighting to overthrow the Afghan government since their ouster by US-led forces in late 2001, have denied involvement in the bombings, accusing Daesh of perpetrating the attacks instead.