Wakil Kohsar / AFP via Getty Images
Since the United States and the Taliban agreed to an agreement that American officials applauded as a path to peace, Afghanistan has not endured months. Spring brought bloodshed, sharpness, and little sign of the Afghan government and militant Islamist group coming closer to reconciliation until Sunday.
This glimmer of hope came on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which commemorates the end of the holy month of Ramadan, when the Taliban unilaterally declared a three-day ceasefire from Sunday. Shortly afterwards, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced that the government had accepted the ceasefire proposal and initiated a process to release up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners.
According to the President’s spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, the release of the prisoners is a “gesture of goodwill” that was carried out specifically in response to the Taliban’s decision. Ghani’s government “is broadening the peace offering and taking further steps to ensure the success of the peace process,” said Sediqqi Tweeted on Sunday.
He said Ghani too received a call by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who thanks and reiterates the American urge for a longer ceasefire and the start of direct negotiations between Afghanistan and the Taliban. So far, these discussions have stalled due to disagreements about how and when the prisoner swap proposed in the US-Taliban agreement should be implemented.
This agreement, announced at the end of February, calls on Afghanistan to release 5,000 prisoners and the Taliban to release up to 1,000 Afghan soldiers by the start of the peace negotiations.
“Peace is the consistent and overwhelming desire of the Afghan people,” said Pompeo on Armistice Sunday. “We hope that this ceasefire can build trust. Next, all sides should work together to build on the dynamism of this historic oath cease-fire and move urgently to intra-Afghan negotiations.”
However, such negotiations could not be easy. In the almost three months since the US Taliban was announced, there has been a spasm of violence in Afghanistan, largely by Taliban insurgents against Afghan soldiers. Other militant Islamist groups active in the country – such as the Islamic State and al-Qaida, with which the Taliban have committed to severing ties – have been responsible for a number of other attacks. The USA accused ISIS for a particularly cruel attack on a maternity ward in a hospital in Kabul two weeks ago.
The planned peace process was also hampered by a dispute between Ghani and his main opponent for the presidency, Abdullah Abdullah. The rivals settled their spit earlier this month with a power-sharing agreement that positioned Abdullah as the leader of peace talks with the Taliban.
“Peace is the priority of the people in Afghanistan” Abdullah said After announcing their ceasefire, the Taliban added, “We welcome every positive step that will help us end the war, end our nation’s long suffering, and achieve a just and lasting peace.”