KABUL: As Afghanistan readies itself for the possibility of another ceasefire with the Taliban – this time over Eid-al-Adha – officials from the High Peace Council (HPC) on Tuesday said that discussions have started in several provinces across the country to pave the way for a permanent truce. Talks have started in several provinces and the results will be made public before Eid-al-Adha, said HPC spokesman Sayed Ehsan Tahiri.
“Everyone wants a permanent ceasefire; if the ceasefire is announced over Eid and the truce continues, confidence building measures would be there,” said Tahiri. Meanwhile government sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said if the Taliban agrees to another truce over Eid, the ceasefire will be extended from ten days to two months and also an office for the Taliban will be opened in Kabul.
Afghan civilians have been the main victims of the conflict in the country and they have called on the warring sides to end the bloodshed. During the Eid-al-Fitr ceasefire, over 430 Taliban fighters reportedly flocked to Kabul from Maidan Wardak province alone – while some sources said over 2,000 Taliban in total came into the capital.
Malikuddin is a resident of Kabul who witnessed the scenes of comradeship between the Taliban and the Afghan security forces over Eid. “I saw people crying on the 3rd day of Eid when the Taliban fighters and the soldiers were hugging each other,” said Malikuddin. “We want a permanent ceasefire to be announced,” said a Kabul resident Mohammad Hakim.
In response to ceasefire rumors, Sayed Akbar Agha, a former Taliban commander said that this time the group’s commanders will not allow their fighters to flock into the cities. “The Taliban commanders were not happy with their fighters going into the cities, I don’t think that this time they will be allowed to enter the cities,” said Akbar Agha. An HPC source said the Afghan government plans to open at least two offices for the Taliban in Kabul if the group agrees to the government’s ceasefire offer.
One of the offices will deal with issues related to the peace process and the other for Taliban families to request permission to visit Taliban prisoners. This comes a day after the Afghan government announced it is working on another ceasefire agreement with the Taliban. Officials have also said that only the Afghan government will have the authority to hold peace talks with the Taliban.
In a statement on Monday night, the Presidential Palace (ARG) said efforts are underway to announce another ceasefire during the Eid festival and that it is only the National Unity Government (NUG) which can claim ownership of any future talks. “The authority of the negotiations is supposed to be the ownership of the National Unity government, but there is a need for consultations on various aspects of the talks,” the statement quoting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani read. Ghani said that the unilateral ceasefire which was announced during Eid-ul-Fitr was visibly successful.
On the reports about the retreat of Afghan forces from some regions in the country Ghani said: “Rumors that the security forces are retreating from some regions are baseless and a safe zone policy is not on government’s agenda.” This new development takes place at a time that there are reports that the US officials are also engaging in direct negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar. However the Afghan officials have said that they are fully aware of the efforts for peace.