Taliban Announce Eid Ceasefire After a Bloody Spring

KABUL Men making sweets at a small traditional factory in preparation for Eidul Azha on Wednesday.—Reuters

Disagreements over a prisoner exchange and the unrest have delayed peace talks between an Afghan government-mandated committee and the Taliban, as envisaged in an agreement signed between the United States and the militant group in Doha in February.

Of the 400 prisoners left, around 200 are accused by the Afghan government of masterminding attacks on embassies, public squares and government offices, killing thousands of civilians in recent years and including a huge 2017 blast targeting the German Embassy in Kabul.

Many Afghans are leery about what comes next.

The Taliban have denied responsibility for the attack, while the Islamic State has not yet commented. That route was, per the agreement, to be quickly paved with prisoner releases and talks starting March 10.

"The Helmand governor said that it was worrying that the Taliban would not cut ties with al-Qaeda and other foreign fighters", Tolo reported on Friday, citing several officials who claimed that "there is a presence of Al Qaeda and other foreign fighters ranging from Disho district of Helmand towards some districts in Herat", an area spanning many miles.

Under a deal signed by the Taliban and the U.S.in February, "intra-Afghan" talks were slated to start in March, but were delayed amid political infighting in Kabul and as a contentious prisoner exchange dragged on.

Since signing the February deal, the Taliban have largely refrained from attacking cities and have not hit USA troops. Authorities have released 4,600 of those prisoners but are hesitating over the final 400, deeming them too unsafe.

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The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has blamed the Taliban for the bulk of civilian casualties during the first half of 2020.

"The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement by the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban of a ceasefire to enable the Afghan people to celebrate the Eid al-Adha holiday in peace", said a statement issued by the United Nations on Thursday. Helmand has always been a bloody battleground for USA and Afghan troops, and has emerged as a Taliban stronghold. First, the United States has withdrawn troops back down to late Obama-era levels and is reportedly planning for continued downsizing of the US presence. At present, there are around 8,600 USA troops in the country, on par with the level established at the end of the Obama presidency.

Second, the Afghan government has released around 4,000 Taliban prisoners, almost fulfilling a part of the February agreement it has kept at the top of its list of priorities.

Finally, the Taliban announced last week that they would be ready for talks after the Eid ul Adha holiday at the end of July. While the government of Ashraf Ghani wants a permanent ceasefire, the Taliban has replied that that's a topic to cover in talks.

Ghani had indicated Tuesday that intra-Afghan negotiations with the Taliban were imminent.

He went on to say, "It is now up to the other parties to determine how they utilize this opportunity".

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