Hours before the three-day festival of Eid al-Fitr was due to begin, Taliban militants made the unexpected declaration that they would attack only if their positions were hit, leading President Ashraf Ghani to welcome the move shortly afterwards, and release a statement saying security and defence forces would comply.
Reason to hope! A welcomed move by Taliban. Well responded by Afghan government. Echos also UN Secretary General Guterres’ call for ceasefire to focus on the new enemy, COVID virus. Let wisdom and compassion of EID convince all to make this permanent and move to peace talks. https://t.co/AJBxdeAyki
— Deborah Lyons (@DeborahLyonsUN) May 23, 2020
It marks just the second time during the nearly 20-year period since Taliban extremists were removed from power, following the US-led invasion of the country, that a brief ceasefire has been agreed. There was widespread rejoicing on the first occasion – again to mark the end of Ramadan – in 2018, as Taliban fighters mingled in the capital and elsewhere, some hugging and posting for selfies with security forces.
But this time, Taliban fighters have been ordered not to enter government-controlled territory.
The truce comes after an escalation in attacks in recent weeks by the Taliban against the backdrop of stalled peace efforts, and violence from other extremist elements, including ISIL.
In an address to the nation following Eid prayers on Sunday, President Ghani announced a further “step forward”, to accelerate the release of Taliban prisoners; something which has been a stumbling block in efforts to finally bring the Taliban and government into direct talks, following a US-Taliban deal signed in February.
‘Seize this opportunity’
“The Secretary-General urges all parties concerned to seize this opportunity and embrace an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process” said the statement on Saturday night from UN chief António Guterres.
“Only a peace settlement can bring an end to the suffering in Afghanistan. The United Nations is committed to supporting the people and Government of Afghanistan in this important endeavour”, he continued.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), also welcomed the move, saying on Twitter that “the Afghan people deserve a respite from violence. The UN urges parties to respect the halt to fighting and urgently look to make it permanent. Intra-Afghan peace negotiations need to start.”
Powerful ‘reason to hope’
The head of the mission, and UN Special Representative, Deborah Lyons, who took up the top job just last month, declared the announced a “reason to hope” and a welcome move.
She noted that it also echoed the call from the UN Secretary-General for a ceasefire to focus on “the new enemy”, the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Cases in Afghan, according to latest World Health Organization figures, stand at more than 9,860, with 211 recorded deaths.
“Let wisdom and compassion” during Eid, “convince all to make this permanent and move to peace talks”, she tweeted.
Just on Friday, she conveyed the UN’s warm wishes to all Afghans on the occasion of Eid, hoping that “every family can celebrate this auspicious and important time in peace.”
“I urge all those in positions of power to do everything possible to stop the violence and to respect this time of reflection and tolerance. This year COVID-19 presents a new challenge for the country, including events during Eid when extended families would normally gather in celebration”, she said, encouraging everyone “to take the necessary preventative measures to protect yourselves, your loved ones and community.”
Make it permanent
The UN’s Political and Peacebuilding Affairs chief, Rosemary DiCarlo, also added her voice on Twitter: “I fervently hope the parties can make it permanent and move decisively towards a political settlement.”