Afghan government, on Saturday, extended its unilateral ceasefire with Taliban, following an initial truce observed by both sides over the Eid festival period.
Militants were seen hugging security forces and civilians in celebration of the unprecedented truce, despite 25 people were killed in a suicide bombing attack in in the eastern province of Nangarhar.
President Ashraf Ghani made the announcement in a rare televised address to the nation, in which he also asked the Taliban to extend their three-day ceasefire, which is due to end Sunday night. So far the group has not responded.
“I order the security forces to remain on their defensive positions,” Ghani said, adding details of the extension would be released later. The government’s ceasefire was due to end Tuesday. Ghani’s comments came on the second day of Eid, the Muslim holiday that caps the fasting month of Ramadan.
It has been marked by incredible scenes of Taliban fighters greeting, embracing and even praying with security forces, politicians, and civilians across the war-battered country, including on the outskirts of the capital Kabul, in a mass outpouring of emotion over the first nationwide ceasefire since the 2001 US invasion.
Afghan forces manning checkpoints offered Eid greetings to the fighters, embracing and posing for photos with the same people they are usually trying to kill.
Villagers also flocked around the insurgents, hugging them and happily taking selfies with the fighters as they celebrated Eid. Such scenes would have been unthinkable only a few days ago.
“I am here to offer greetings to our brothers in the police and army,” Taliban commander Baba told AFP.
“We have held the ceasefire well so far. Everyone is tired of war and if our leaders order us to continue the ceasefire, we will hold it forever.” The Taliban announced their truce for the first three days of Eid, which started yesterday, promising not to attack Afghan security forces for the first time in the nearly 17-year conflict.
They said they would continue attacking US-led NATO troops.
That came after Ghani announced that police and troops would cease operations against the Taliban for eight days, starting last Tuesday — though he warned that operations against other militants, including IS, would continue.
Ghani’s extension of the ceasefire drew immediate international support. NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan and US Forces said in a joint statement they would respect the announcement.
Extraordinary images posted on social media purportedly showing Taliban, security forces and civilians celebrating together served as powerful propaganda for both sides and fanned hopes among ordinary Afghans for the ceasefire to continue.
“Look, they are brothers. If their leaders come, sit and talk just like their soldiers we will have peace tomorrow,” Said Hasibullah posted on Facebook under a photo purportedly showing a Taliban fighter and Afghan soldier having a cup of tea together.
The Taliban had “exploited” the opportunity to show their popularity among ordinary Afghans, a Western diplomat in Kabul told AFP.
“(That’s) no bad thing if they are able to see the benefits of talking not fighting,” he said. The unusual bonhomie between the two sides also came as Ghani confirmed that Pakistani Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah had been killed in a US drone strike.
(with agency inputs)