Taliban stops fighting to celebrate Eid holiday
KABUL In remarkable scenes, Taliban fighters put down their weapons and mingled joyfully with Afghan civilians and security force members in provincial centres across the war-torn country yesterday, celebrating both the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and the beginning of an unprecedented three-day ceasefire in the 16-year conflict.
In the western city of Herat and the surrounding region, Taliban members distributed leaflets that praised the bravery of insurgent warriors in battle but also welcomed Eid al-Fitr, the post-Ramadan holiday, and called on insurgents to ‘‘cease all fighting and take up defensive positions’’ until after Eid ends tomorrow.
Young men danced and sang in the streets of Herat, shouting ‘‘Ceasefire! Ceasefire!’’ in Dari and Pashto.
Videos posted on social media also showed jubilant crowds in Zabul, Wardak and Logar provinces dancing to drums and flutes, while insurgents hugged local residents and posed for selfies with them.
One video showed two large banners with the faces of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada, along with a message saying: ‘‘Thank you so much for announcing the ceasefire for the happiness of Afghans.’’
Ghani, after offering Eid prayers in his palace in Kabul, noted that the Taliban had honoured the truce and said he hoped it could be prolonged beyond Eid.
A caravan of peace activists drove from the capital, Kabul, to nearby Logar province, a Taliban stronghold, where one member said they asked ‘‘both sides to talk to each other and end this war’’.
A Taliban official in Herat, who uses the single name Izzatullah, said the group recognised how much the public AP had welcomed the ceasefire, and that after Eid its leaders would discuss whether to extend it.
The unexpected outpouring of hope, on one of Islam’s most important and festive days, was dampened by two violent attacks that left a dozen people dead in the days immediately preceding it.
In Ghazni province, a roadside bomb exploded under a minibus, and in Jalalabad city, insurgents tried to storm an education building and were shot dead.
Taliban officials had said previously that they might still attack foreign forces during the truce, but no violent incidents or ceasefire violations were reported. By mid-evening, hundreds of armed but peaceful Taliban were reported to be swarming into the central district of Qalat to join the celebration.
Last month, Ghani made a generous peace proposal to the Taliban, offering them a political role and recognition if they were to renounce the fight. The insurgents ignored it and kept on fighting.
But early this week, when Ghani announced a unilateral ceasefire during Eid with no conditions, the insurgents accepted the offer.
‘‘People are so happy at the ceasefire that they have forgot the happiness of Eid,’’ Noor Agha, a police official in Zabul, said on one video as he watched scores of smiling Taliban fighters enter the local bazaar. ‘‘We all want the government to make more of these opportunities.’’ Washington Post
Afghan men hug outside a mosque in Kabul after Eid al-Fitr prayers. The Taliban is observing an unprecedented ceasefire throughout Afghanistan to mark the postRamadan holiday.