Afghanistan awaiting Taliban response to truce offer

Afghanistan awaiting Taliban response to truce offer
The Taliban is yet to respond to a truce offer proposed by the Afghan government on Sunday, after an extraordinarily violent week in the war-torn country.
3 min read
20 August, 2018
Afghanistan has witnessed an extraordinarily violent week [Getty]

Afghanistan was left waiting on Monday for a Taliban response to President Ashraf Ghani's proposal of a three-month ceasefire, an offer welcomed by the United States and NATO after nearly 17 years of deadly conflict.

Ghani unveiled the government's latest gambit during an Independence Day address late on Sunday, saying security forces would observe the truce beginning this week - but only if the militants reciprocated.

The president said his office had cleared "all obstacles" to peace with the announcement following consultations with religious scholars, political parties and civil society groups.

The Taliban did not immediately respond to Ghani's proposal, but vowed to release "hundreds" of "enemy prisoners" to mark the Islamic Eid al-Adha holiday that starts this week. 

It was not clear which prisoners they were referring to. 

A senior Taliban member based in Pakistan told AFP the leadership had yet to issue a formal response to the ceasefire, but suggested fighting may be restrained during Eid even if no announcement is made.

Analysts were mixed over the proposal, with some saying the government's move was a sign of desperation after recent heavy bloodshed, while others said the trust-building measure was integral to paving the way for negotiations.

"After Ghazni City and everything else, this looks really desperate," tweeted Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.   

Kabul-based military analyst Ateequllah Amarkhail however said the war had ground to a stalemate, and the Taliban needed to respond positively to open dialogue.

Afghan security forces have suffered enormous losses since US-led NATO combat forces withdrew in late 2014.

The move followed an extraordinarily violent week in 
Afghanistan that saw that Taliban storm the provincial capital of Ghazni - just a two-hour drive from Kabul - and press the fight against security forces across the country, with estimates suggesting hundreds of people may have been killed.

If the militants accede to the ceasefire, it would be just the second nationwide truce since the US-led invasion in 2001 that toppled the Taliban regime.

The first, for just three days in June, saw thousands of insurgents pour into cities across Afghanistan, eating ice cream and posing for selfies with security forces to celebrate.

The brief respite spurred hopes that a new path was opening for possible peace talks in the country to end the nearly 17-year-old war.

Prior to Ghazni there had been tentative signs that diplomatic efforts to kick-start peace negotiations were starting to bear fruit.

In June, Washington indicated a shift in its longstanding policy that negotiations must be Afghan-led. Last month Taliban representatives met US officials for talks in Qatar, militant sources have told AFP

Afghan security forces have suffered enormous losses since US-led NATO combat forces withdrew in late 2014.

But it is ordinary Afghans who have suffered the most in the relentless conflict, especially in Kabul, which the UN has said is the deadliest place for civilians in Afghanistan.

The truce offer was also welcomed by the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto, who added it was important "to seize all opportunities for a negotiated end to the conflict".