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WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who is likely to visit Islamabad in the first of week of September for talks with the new Pakistani government, said on Monday that the United States wanted a ceasefire in Afghanistan during Eidul Azha because this was also the desire of the Afghan people.

The Afghan government announced on Sunday that it wanted a ceasefire in the country during this Eid like the one that was observed during Eidul Fitr, which allowed rival Afghan factions, particularly the Taliban, to celebrate the religious festival peacefully with their families.

But Mr Pompeo and Afghan officials both said that for this ceasefire to happen, it was necessary for the Taliban to desire it as well.

“This plan responds to the clear and continued call of the Afghan people for peace,” Mr Pompeo said.

He noted that the last ceasefire in Afghanistan revealed the deep desire of the Afghan people to end the conflict. “And we hope another ceasefire will move the country closer to sustainable security,” the chief US diplomat said.

“The United States and our international partners support this initiative by the Afghan people and the Afghan government, and we call on the Taliban to participate.”

Mr Pompeo said the US supported this initiative because “it is our hope and that of the international community that the Afghan people may celebrate Eidul Azha this year in peace, free from fear”. He said the US also supported Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer for comprehensive negotiations with the Taliban on a mutually agreed agenda. “We remain ready to support, facilitate, and participate in direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban,” said the US diplomat.

Earlier this week, Mr Pompeo telephoned the Saudi crown prince and also asked him to help arrange a ceasefire during Eidul Azha. The United States hopes that the ceasefire will enable the Taliban to experience the blessings of peace while celebrating the festival with their families.

Mr Pompeo, who will be arriving in Islamabad after the ceasefire, is expected to urge the new Pakistani government to back its efforts for bringing a durable peace in Afgha­nistan. In return for Pakistan’s support in Afghanistan, Washington may drop its opposition to a $12 billion aid package with the IMF and consider restoring its security assistance to Pakistan.

Afghanistan was on Monday awaiting the Taliban’s response to President Ghani’s proposal for a three-month ceasefire, an offer welcomed by the US and Nato after nearly 17 years of war, according to AFP.

The president said his office had cleared “all obstacles” to peace with the announcement following consultations with religious scholars, political parties and civil society groups.

The Taliban did not immediately respond to President Ghani’s truce offer, but vowed to release “hundreds” of “enemy prisoners” to mark the Eidul Azha holiday. A Taliban member told AFP that the leadership had yet to issue a formal response to the ceasefire, but suggested fighting might be restrained during Eid even if no announcement was made.

Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2018