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WASHINGTON: The United States and Afghanistan are trying to arrange a second ceasefire with the Taliban over Eidul Azha, diplomatic sources told Dawn.

In June, an edict by about 3,000 religious scholars led to an unprecedented ceasefire on Eidul Fitr, allowing rival fighters to mingle with each other.

Later, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who had declared the unilateral eight-day ceasefire, extended it for eight more days and offered free medical and humanitarian assistance to the Taliban fighters. He also allowed the Taliban prisoners to contact and see their families.

Diplomatic sources in Washington say that while there will be three holidays on Eidul Azha, the Afghan government wants a longer ceasefire this time. During this month-long ceasefire, the government will again offer medical and humanitarian assistance to Taliban fighters and would also allow them to visit their families.

The Taliban have long demanded direct talks with the United States on the future of foreign troops in Afghanistan but they do not want the Afghan government to participate in these talks.

The issue was raised at the State Department briefing on Wednesday when a journalist asked Spokesperson Heather Nauert if Washington was “seeking to engage in direct talks with the Taliban”.

“We’re exploring all avenues to advance a peace process in close consultation with the government of Afghanistan,” she responded. Our position on this hasn’t changed. Any peace and reconciliation talks have to be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned.”

“So, the US would not engage in direct talks?” the journalist asked

“That’s all I’m — all I’m going to say to you right now,” she responded.

Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2018