Taliban announce brief ceasefire, as Afghan peace talks seem imminent

KABUL, Afghanistan – The Taliban said on Tuesday they would observe a three-day ceasefire this week during the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival, as the Afghan president suggested lengthy talks between his government and insurgents to end the The war could start in a week.

Events promise to inject new optimism into a peace process that was plagued by disagreements over a prisoner swap and increased insurgent attacks, even as the United States continues to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

In a statement, the Taliban said they had ordered the group’s fighters “not to carry out any kind of attack on the enemy” during the three days and nights of the Muslim festival, and “to retaliate heavily” only if they are attacked.

Afghan officials greeted the announcement with a note of caution.

“The Afghan government appreciates the Taliban’s announcement of a ceasefire in Eid days, but the Afghan people wanted a lasting ceasefire,” said Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani. “The Afghan government has taken all necessary measures to show its commitment to the peace process and calls on the Taliban to also demonstrate it. The Afghan people are tired of the war and must end. “

The Taliban’s announcement came shortly after Mr. Ghani said that a prisoner exchange that had faced opposition from his government would be completed and that direct negotiations with the Taliban would begin in a week.

Under an agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban in February, which initiated the gradual withdrawal of US troops, direct peace negotiations between the Afghan parties were conditional on exchanging 5,000 Taliban prisoners with 1,000 Afghan security forces held by the insurgents.

The Afghan government, excluded from those talks, had vehemently opposed any agreement made on its behalf for such a move. But with mounting pressure from the Trump administration and shrinking US forces, the Afghan government found no choice but to cooperate with the prisoner exchange.

After releasing about 4,500 Taliban prisoners, the Afghan government said it could not release the rest as they had been charged with serious crimes, including terrorist attacks, rape and smuggling, according to Afghan officials. As a compromise, the government offered to provide the Taliban with the names of approximately 500 other prisoners it could release, which the insurgents rejected.

A senior Afghan official aware of the events said the government was committed to releasing 5,000 prisoners, but hoped that the United States could still convince the Taliban to change their minds about releasing 200 of the worst-accused prisoners. crimes.

In the agreement the United States signed with the Taliban in February, the prisoner exchange was expected to be completed in 10 days, paving the way for direct negotiations between the government and the Taliban. But as disagreements over prisoner exchanges continued, the Taliban intensified their attacks on an Afghan force that has seen its support of the United States military dramatically curtailed under Washington’s deal with insurgents.

Speaking at an event in Kabul on Tuesday, Mr. Ghani said 3,560 Afghan forces had been killed and nearly 6,800 more had been injured since the February agreement between the United States and the Taliban. And 775 civilians were killed and 1,609 more wounded in the same period.

“The window of opportunity is shrinking as Afghan women and men are seeing the continuation of the carnage rather than a peace dividend,” said Ghani.