Afghans seek peace as US officials welcome ceasefire

Updated 30 Jul 2020

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KABUL: Men making sweets at a small traditional factory in preparation for Eidul Azha on Wednesday.—Reuters
KABUL: Men making sweets at a small traditional factory in preparation for Eidul Azha on Wednesday.—Reuters

KABUL: Afghans on Wednesday welcomed a three-day ceasefire but demanded it be made permanent, after the government and the Taliban said they would observe a truce during Eidul Azha.

For their part, senior US officials hailed the announcement of a ceasefire, which raised hopes that the long-delayed peace talks between the two foes could begin next week.

The two sides on Tuesday announced a temporary stoppage in Afghanistan’s war, marking only the third official pause in nearly 19 years. It is slated to start on Friday and run for the duration of Eid.

Ali, a shopkeeper in Kabul who only gave one name, said three days was not enough. “We want peace forever,” he said.

“We have the right to live in peace like other countries, we want our country to develop. We are all — old and young — tired of this war.”

The Taliban — who over the years have steadfastly dismissed government calls for ceasefires and upped violence even after signing a deal with the US — announced they would down weapons for Eid after President Ashraf Ghani signalled progress in a contentious prisoner exchange.

“To demonstrate the government’s commitment to peace, the Islamic Republic will soon complete the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners,” Ghani said, referring to the number of insurgent inmates the government originally pledged to free under the auspices of a US-Taliban deal agreed in February.

The swap is a crucial step to talks starting. Ghani said negotiations could begin next week once the exchange was finished.

His spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said that Kabul would observe the ceasefire, but cautioned it did not go far enough. “The people of Afghanistan demand a lasting ceasefire and the start of direct talks between the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan,” he said.

Top US officials hailed the development, including special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

“We welcome the Taliban announcement of an Eid ceasefire and the Afghan government’s reciprocal announcement,” Khalilzad said on Twitter on Wednesday.

“Our hope is this Eid brings all Afghans together in understanding & mutual respect and one step closer to a sustainable peace.”

The top US diplomat in Kabul, Ross Wilson, also voiced hope that the two sides would move quickly to the negotiating table.

“Afghans deserve to celebrate the holiday in peace,” he wrote on Twitter late on Tuesday.

The Taliban had indicated last week that they are prepared to negotiate after the Eid holidays, and on Tuesday they declared the ceasefire.

Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2020