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KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani may offer the Taliban a ceasefire during next month’s Eid holiday after the truce in June which saw unprecedented scenes of unarmed fighters and soldiers mingling on the streets of Kabul, a spokesman said on Saturday.

The announcement came amid growing speculation about the possibility of peace talks with the Taliban, following Ghani’s offer in January of talks without preconditions and the three-day truce during last month’s Eid al-Fitr holiday.

That ceasefire, which saw unarmed Taliban fighters on the streets of Kabul and other Afghan cities taking selfies with soldiers and police, raised visions of longer-lasting peace 17 years after the US-led campaign that ousted the Taliban.

Ghani’s main spokesman Haroon Chakansuri confirmed a report in The Wall Street Journal this week that the government was considering a repeat of the truce during Eid al-Qurban, the second Eid holiday which this year falls on Aug 22.

“There is the possibility that a ceasefire may be announced over Eid al-Qurban,” he told a news conference in Kabul.

He said further details would be announced later.

The last Eid ceasefire came amid an increased diplomatic push to end the conflict, with the United States announcing it was willing to participate in Afghan-led talks with the Taliban and discuss the future of international forces in Afghanistan.

Dostum due to return home today

Afghanistan’s Vice President General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who left the country last year amid allegations of sexual abuse and torture, will return home on Sunday after more than a year in exile and resume his duties, officials said.

Government spokesman Haroon Chakansuri confirmed on Saturday that Dostum would return home on a chartered aircraft on Sunday and would be given an official reception. Accusations against him would be handled independently by the courts, he said.

“Legal issues are a matter for judicial authorities,” the spokesman told a news conference in Kabul.

The return of Dostum followed days of sometimes violent protests by supporters in northern Afghanistan over the arrest of a militia commander loyal to him. Officials said that negotiations for the return have been going on for weeks.

Chakansuri also said the commander, Nizamuddin Qaisari, who was arrested after a violent dispute with security officials in the northern province of Faryab, would stay in prison pending an investigation, while other militia commanders accused of abuses would be pursued.

Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek veteran of decades of Afghanistan’s bloody politics, faced outrage from Western donor countries including the United States after reports in 2016 that his guards had seized Ahmad Eshchi, a political rival and subjected him to beatings, torture and violent sexual abuse.

He denied Eshchi’s accusations but amid international demands that he be held accountable, he left the country in May last year, ostensibly to seek medical treatment in Turkey and has not returned since.

Dostum’s expected return adds to an already volatile mix ahead of separate parliamentary elections in October that are seen as a dry run for the more important presidential elections next year.­­­

Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2018