KABUL: Afghanistan announced on Thursday an apparently unilateral ceasefire with the Taliban for Eid, though operations against other groups including the militant Islamic State group will continue.

The week-long ceasefire, which was backed by the US and would bring some welcome relief to war-weary civilians, will last “from the 27th of Ramazan until the fifth day of Eidul Fitr”, President Ashraf Ghani tweeted from an official account, indicating it could run from June 12-19.

It was not immediately clear if the Taliban would agree to the ceasefire, the first during Eid since the US invasion in 2001.

“We are checking with our officials regarding the ceasefire announcement,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

The surprise declaration comes on the heels of a fatwa issued by Afghanistan’s top clerics branding suicide attacks “haram”, or forbidden, and after the Pentagon announced that senior Taliban officials had been negotiating with Afghan authorities on a possible ceasefire.

Nearly 17 years after they were toppled from power, the Taliban are resurgent, with Afghan forces — who have taken the lead in the conflict since Nato combat troops pulled out in 2014 — struggling to contain them, while civilians pay a disproportionate price in the fighting.

“(T)he Afghan government directs all the security and defence forces of the country... to stop all the attacks on the Taliban, but the operation will continue against Daesh (Islamic Sta­te), Al Qaeda and other international terrorist networks,” Ghani said in an official statement.

Ghani added that more details about the ceasefire will be revealed during a “massive gathering” next week but did not elaborate further. Deputy interior affairs minister General Akhtar Mohammad Ebrahimi said that if security forces are attacked during the ceasefire period, “your security and defence forces will respond”.

General Mohammad Sharif Yaftali, the army chief of staff, added that if the ceasefire holds it “could be extended”.

The US will also “honour” the ceasefire, US Forces in Afghanistan said in a statement, though it seconded Ghani’s stipulation that this did not extend to IS and other groups.

“We will adhere to the wishes of Afghanistan for the country to enjoy a peaceful end to the Islamic holy month of Ramazan, and support the search for an end to the conflict,” said General John Nicholson, head of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan.

Last month, the Pentagon said that ceasefire negotiations with the Taliban were ongoing.

However analysts were sceptical of any positive response, saying Ghani’s announcement appeared to be unilateral. Kabul-based political analyst Haroon Mir said the Taliban were “highly unlikely” to agree to a ceasefire, and suggested it was more of a political move by Ghani.

“I doubt this announcement will change anything on the ground,” he added.

Rahimullah Yusufzai, a Taliban expert based in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, agreed. “A ceasefire normally is negotiated... This is one-sided and I don’t expect the Taliban to respond positively,” he said.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2018

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