Tal­iban stops fight­ing to cel­e­brate Eid hol­i­day

Sunday News - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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