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Overcoming divisions: Can the Taliban and Afghan leaders share peace?



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Media Title There were tears, hugs, and selfies when Afghan troops and the Taliban signed a truce for Eid in 2018.

A year ago, during an unprecedented ceasefire, Afghans forces and Taliban laid down their arms to celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid. Do those who come together feel closer to a lasting peace as the talks on the country's future progress?

For three days in June 201

8, men who longed to kill each other hugged and posed for selfies.

These scenes helped launch a peace process that has made significant progress.

Hayatullah Hayat, then Governor of Nangarhar Province, was one of those who hit the insurgents.

He led a joint procession of governing and Taliban members through the eastern city of Jalalabad – the red, green and black national flag fluttering overhead along with the white banner of the insurgents.

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Hayatullah Hayat / Facebook

"I've hosted 230 Taliban and none of them were searched when they entered my palace," he tells me proudly.

Hayat survived a series of Taliban raids, claiming that over the past few years, more than 50 close colleagues have been lost to the conflict.

He admits he was initially concerned about the possibility that his guests might attack him.

"Personally, I was worried," he says, but adds that he took the risk of stressing the importance of peace for the Afghan people, "even though I died."

More than 45,000 members of the security forces have been killed in conflict over the past five years. But in a large conference hall, Mr. Hayat and his team met dozens of Taliban fighters who stood up to hug him.

Among them was a young fighter who wanted to be known only as "Khanjar" to protect him from a possible arrest.

He tells a BBC colleague that he has fond memories of the day. "We exchanged Eid greetings with happy hearts … I hugged the governor and wished him well."

The only place they usually met, according to Khanjar, was "on the battlefield."

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Hayatullah Hayat / Facebook

Caption

Mr. Hayat hugged Taliban fighters, including "Khanjar" (not pictured)

Nonetheless, he is undoubtedly what he would do if he saw the governor today: "If our leaders give us permission, I will greet him, but if they tell us to fight, I will fight . "

Shortly after the ceasefire, peace negotiations began between the Taliban and the United States in Qatar, where the group has a political office. So far, the insurgents have refused to meet representatives of the Afghan government, who dismiss them as puppets.

On Sunday, however, another "intra-Afghan" discussion will take place in Qatar, with the participation of the Taliban and a number of Afghan politicians. Significantly, some members of the government are also expected to participate – but they will be present in "personal capacity".

Mr. Hayat said when he met Taliban members during the ceasefire last year, he asked them how they could justify their violence.

"The only excuse they gave me was the presence of international forces … I told them that if we reach an agreement and peace, the international forces will leave." They are here because Afghan lives are threatened and the world is threatened by Afghanistan. "

And how did they react to the argument?

"They said [they] can not make decisions and this must be discussed with the [their] leadership." But they would fight until foreign troops left the country.

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Hayat believes that what he said had an impact on Taliban fighters' thinking in the meeting. But he says there have been lessons for supporters of the government, many of whom often mock the group as proxies to neighboring Pakistani intelligence agencies.

"Before the ceasefire, most Afghans thought we would not be meeting with the Taliban, and these three days have proven that the Taliban are part of this community and we can live with them," he says, adding that some Taliban Members may adopt an "ideological" stance that differs from the mainstream and criticize the group for attacks that claim civilian casualties. But he believes that 90% of the fighters could integrate into society.

Caption

"Khanjar" asked the BBC not to disclose his identity

Khanjar, the Taliban fighter, seems more cautious about whether the meeting with the governor changed his views or not. He shuttles between describing government officials and their followers as "our Muslim brothers" and "apostates" – those who have abandoned their religion.

Finally, he seems to agree on a kind of compromise to weigh the impact of his interaction with the governor: "We are not happy that the US is forcing us to fight against our Muslim brothers, but since then the government has been the puppet of the Americans, it is our duty to fight them. "

The fighting in Nangarhar Province and elsewhere in the country resumed a few hours after the end of the ceasefire. However, the scenes of the joint celebrations had shaken some Taliban leaders, who were surprised at how eager their foot soldiers were to lay down their weapons.

Khanjar admits he wants to end the conflict.

"I, too, get tired of the war," he says. "But now that I'm in, I can not go … It's my job, I'll fight with unbelievers and apostates for as long as I live."

Although violence continues in Afghanistan, these brief days of peace have raised the hopes of Mr. Hayat and many other Afghans that one day an agreement can be reached.

"We have no choice but peace and forgiveness," he says. "We have a saying that blood can not be washed with blood."


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