Afghans yesterday offered prayers on the Eid al-Adha as a three-day ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghan government began, with many hoping the truce would lead to peace talks and the end of nearly two decades of conflict.
A bomb that killed at least 17 people just hours before the truce came into effect underlined the scale of the challenge that lies ahead, although the Taliban denied any involvement.
The halt in fighting is scheduled to last for the duration of the Muslim festival and is only the third official truce in nearly 19 years.
“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, said after offering prayers at a Kabul mosque.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban have both signaled that peace talks could begin after Eid, and there are widespread calls for the warring parties to extend the ceasefire.
Under a deal signed by the Tali-ban and the US in February, “intra-Afghan” talks were scheduled to begin in March, but were delayed amid political infighting in Kabul and as a contentious prisoner exchange dragged on.
That swap would see Kabul free 5,000 Taliban fighters, while the insurgents claimed late on Thursday that they had fulfilled their pledge of freeing 1,000 troops.
Kabul has freed at least 4,400 Taliban prisoners so far.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, who led negotiations with the Taliban, was visiting regional players, including Ghani, to push for a ceasefire extension.
Since signing the February deal, the Taliban has largely refrained from attacking cities and has not hit US troops, but it has conducted near-daily attacks on Afghan forces and civilians.
Ghani this week said that 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 this year.
“We want extension of ceasefire so that bloodshed ends... We have suffered from the conflict for the last 40 years,” shopkeeper Sharif Ahmad said after offering Eid prayers.
Many Afghans are wary of what comes next. After two previous truces — in 2018 and in May — the Taliban immediately returned to the battlefield.
“If they want peace then they should surrender their arms and hold immediate talks with [the] Afghan government,” Kabul resident Farhad Habibi wrote on Facebook.
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