The many bids for peace in Afghanistan

June 09, 2018 07:39 pm | Updated 07:39 pm IST

An Afghan man reading the Koran at a mosque in Kabul in May.

An Afghan man reading the Koran at a mosque in Kabul in May.

In another bid to push the Taliban towards a peaceful resolution to the Afghan conflict, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday announced an unconditional ceasefire with the militant group. The unilateral proposal would be observed from June 12 to June 19.

“This ceasefire is an opportunity for Taliban to introspect that their violent campaign is not winning them hearts and minds but further alienating the Afghan people from their cause,” Mr. Ghani said in a public statement. “With the ceasefire announcement, we epitomise the strength of the Afghan government and the will of the people for a peaceful resolution to the Afghan conflict,” he added.

The move follows a fatwa issued by Afghanistan’s Ulema Council — a gathering of over 2,000 religious leaders from across the country — earlier this week that declared the attacks by the militants “un-Islamic”. The gathering was attacked by a suicide bomber less than an hour after the fatwa was issued, killing 14 people and injuring several others, including religious scholars and Imams.

Maulavi Abdul Basir Haqqani, head of the Ulema Council for Kabul and a survivor of the explosion on Monday, justified the fatwa. “This is not our war. It benefits other countries. How can the Taliban justify shedding Afghan blood?” he questioned, urging the Taliban to consider negotiations with the government. Afghans have welcomed the fatwa as well as the announcement of the ceasefire. “If the Taliban accepts the ceasefire deal, Afghans will be able to celebrate their first Id in many years without fear of explosions or killings,” Idrees Stanikzai, a political activist and a candidate in the upcoming parliamentary elections, told this writer. “Meanwhile, the Afghan government and the Americans must work on a long-term peace deal in Afghanistan, which is only possible if they sit across the Taliban and negotiate directly,” he added.

The Taliban on Saturday agreed to a three-day ceasefire, without specifying the period, while asserting that they would continue operations against foreign troops. Earlier, they had issued an “Op-ed” on their website criticising the fatwa, and calling it an effort “to legitimise the illegal occupation [of the U.S.]” “The fatwa declared by the Peace Council under the name of the Ulema is full of ignorance and distortion,” it read, adding that jihad is also obligatory against “their domestic supporters and puppets”, referring to the Afghan government and the U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

U.S. to respect truce

Meanwhile, U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who had increased their offensives, especially airstrikes on insurgent targets, have agreed to respect the ceasefire. “We will adhere to the wishes of Afghanistan for the country to enjoy a peaceful end to the Islamic holy month of Ramzan, and support the search for an end to the conflict,” said Gen. John Nicholson, commander of the U.S. forces, said in a statement.

However, the ceasefire will not apply to the growing Islamic State (IS) insurgency in several parts of Afghanistan. “Afghan National Defence and Security Forces will only stop offensive manoeuvres against Afghan armed Taliban and will continue to target Daesh and other foreign-backed terrorist organisations and their affiliates,” the Afghan President said.

Despite the increasing intensity of conflict in Kabul and around the country, Afghans remain hopeful that the ceasefire will bring much needed relief in an otherwise intensifying war. “For Afghans, there is no good war or bad peace,” Mr. Stanikzai said, quoting Benjamin Franklin.

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