In an unexpected move, the Taliban on Saturday night announced a three-day Eid ceasefire with the Afghan government and instructed its fighters across the country to refrain from entering government areas and also said that Kabul forces were not allowed to enter territories under the group’s control.
A statement issued by the group’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Twitter said that the Taliban will not stage any attack on ‘enemy’ forces, but will maintain the right to defend itself against potential threats.
An Eid ceasefire was called for by the Taliban also in June 2018.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reciprocated with a similar announcement asking the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces (ANDSF) to act only if attacked.
“I welcome the ceasefire announcement by the Taliban. The Afghan government extends the offer of peace. As Commander in Chief I have instructed ANDSF to comply with the three-days truce and to defend only if attacked.” Ghani tweeted.
On Sunday morning, President Ghani, addressing the nation for Eid and speaking on the ceasefire, said that the prisoner release process would be resumed to expedite intra-Afghan talks.
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council of National Reconciliation, also tweeted that he welcomed the move:
"I welcome the Taliban's announcement of a three-day ceasefire during Eid-ul-Fitr as a positive step towards achieving peace. I ask the President of the I.R. of AFG to reciprocate the gesture with goodwill & announce a ceasefire during Eid days to allow Afghan citizens to celebrate Eid with loved ones during difficult Covid-19 times. We hope that the ceasefire accelerates prisoner exchanges between the two sides, helps to reduce violence after Eid, and accelerates intra-Afghan talks."
Abdullah continued: "Peace is the priority of the people of Afghanistan, as we welcome any positive step that helps us end the war, put an end to the long suffering of our nation and achieve a just and durable peace."
Earlier last month, President Ashraf Ghani appealed to the group to announce a ceasefire during the holy month of Ramadan, but the group at the time rejected Ghani’s appeal and instead called him an "obstacle" in the way towards the peace process, and cited his delays of a prisoner release called for in the US-Taliban agreement.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan, also welcomed the move.
“We welcome the Taliban’s decision to observe a ceasefire during Eid, as well as the Afghan government announcement reciprocating and announcing its own ceasefire,” tweeted Khalilzad.
“This is a momentous opportunity that should not be missed. The US will do its part to help,” he said. Khalilzad added: “Other positive steps should immediately follow: the release of remaining prisoners as specified in the US-Taliban agreement by both sides, no returning to high levels of violence, and an agreement on a new date for the start of intra-Afghan negotiations.”
Khalilzad further said: “Although difficult challenges remain on both fronts, I believe both will be overcome, so long as leaders on all sides make the right decisions and put the interest of their people first. This development offers the opportunity to accelerate the peace process.”
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the announcement by the Afghanistan government and Taliban.
“I welcome the statements by the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban on a 3-day ceasefire over Eid. All parties should seize this opportunity for peace, for the benefit of all Afghans. NATO remains committed to Afghanistan’s long-term security,” Stoltenberg tweeted.
US embassy Chargé d’Affaires Ross Wilson tweeted: "Eid Mubarak! On this holiday, Muslims worldwide celebrate the end of Ramadan. The cease-fire declared by the Taliban and action by the Afghan government to match it are a special blessing for all the people of Afghanistan."
Chargé d’Affaires Ross continued:
"Let us seize this opportunity to advance the peace process forward by taking further reciprocal steps and move to negotiations. Wouldn’t it be a true miracle if the fighting never resumed?" Wilson asked.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) also welcomed the move by both parties.
“UNAMA welcomes Taliban and Afghanistan government statements of a 3-day ceasefire over Eid. The Afghan people deserve a respite from violence. The UN urges parties to respect the halt to fighting & urgently look to make it permanent. Intra-Afghan peace negotiations need to start,” UNAMA said.
“Reason to hope! A welcomed move by Taliban. Well responded by Afghan government. Echos also UN Secretary General Guterres’ call for ceasefire to focus on the new enemy, COVID virus. Let wisdom and compassion of EID convince all to make this permanent and move to peace talks,” said Deborah Lyons, UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for #Afghanistan and head of UNAMA.
The German envoy also tweeted:
“We welcome the Taliban movement’s announcement of a ceasefire during #EidUlFitr and President Ashraf Ghani‘s positive response. We hope this can be the basis for long-term trust building that leads to viable intra-Afghan negotiations,” tweeted Peter Prügel, German Ambassador to Afghanistan.
The announcement for a ceasefire also sparked hopes at the national level, and many Afghans welcomed the move.
“I welcome the three-day Eid ceasefire announced by the...Taliban. I also welcome the positive response of the government. I hope it holds for the Eid and forever,” former president Hamid Karzai tweeted.
“We strongly welcome the ceasefire by both the Aghan government and the Taliban movement. Our people truly deserve it. We hope it will be extended into a humanitarian ceasefire to allow for a COVID-19 response throughout the country and start of intra-Afghan talks and prisoners’ release,” tweeted acting Foreign Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar.
“After weeks of horrific violence, ceasefire in Afghanistan is welcome news. It should be utilized for delivery of basic needs & medicine to populations in need. It must be extended beyond Eid so Afghans can have some relief & we can focus on countering the COVID 19 challenge,” tweeted Shahrzad Akbar, the head of Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
The Taliban’s move for a ceasefire comes just days after the Taliban's leader Hibatullah Akhunzada urged the United States "not to waste" the opportunity offered by the peace agreement the group signed with the US that set the stage for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.
Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar on Sunday morning in a public announcement suggested forming a third party to move peace efforts forward. He says the peace efforts should not be monopolized-- otherwise the war will continue in Afghanistan. Hekmatyar also stated that the government does not have the will for peace, and said that he will make efforts for peace and will end the war in the country.