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.
Saturday’s attack in Rodat district in the eastern province of Nangarhar was the first major incident of violence since the start of Eid. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the assault on a crowd celebrating the ceasefire, which provincial governor spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said in a statement killed at least 26 people and over 50 were injured.
In the contested district of Bati Kot in Nangarhar, Taliban fighters carrying assault weapons and rocket-propelled grenade launchers travelled openly by car and motorbike, waving Afghan and Taliban flags. 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.
The Taliban announced their truce for the first three days of Eid, which started on Friday, 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.
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. US forces targeted Fazlullah in a counter-terrorism strike on Thursday in eastern Kunar province, close to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, US officials said, without confirming his death.
Ghani said Pakistani leaders had assured him the strike was a “great step toward building trust between the two nations,” while urging them to “bring (the) Afghan Taliban residing in Pakistan to the negotiation table.” Pakistan has long been accused of supporting the Afghan Taliban and providing safe haven to its leaders, charges it denies.