When Afghans embraced the Taliban fighters

Published - June 23, 2018 08:06 pm IST

 Residents of Surkh-Rod district in Nangarhar Province posing for photo with a Taliban fighter earlier in the month.

Residents of Surkh-Rod district in Nangarhar Province posing for photo with a Taliban fighter earlier in the month.

For the first time in Afghanistan’s 17-year-old war with the Taliban, a ceasefire was announced by the government during the last days of the Ramzan month. The gesture was reciprocated by the insurgent group, albeit only for three days.

These three days saw unexpected geniality from both parties, with Taliban fighters entering Afghan cities and being welcomed graciously by the locals. Most major cities, including Kabul, witnessed a surge of Taliban fighters marching on the streets, greeting locals and interacting with the Afghan officials and security forces, whom they otherwise target with brutal inconsideration. According to a government source, about 30,000 fighters entered cities across Afghanistan.

“This Id was unlike any other we’ve experienced in our lives. For the first time, there was no fear of explosion or attacks,” said Haji Farhad, 32, an ice cream shop owner who met several Taliban fighters. “Meeting them was such an unusual experience. I had never seen a Taliban fighter before, but they seemed normal and just like us. They have been coming here for the last two days to eat ice cream,” he said, adding that all the fighters he spoke to wanted the conflict to end peacefully. “I hope they have learned their lessons and have decided to change their ways,” Mr. Farhad added, with much hope.

For 3 days, Afghanistan saw remarkable bonhomie between the Taliban and the govt. as people threw their doors open to the militants. The truce, though brief, has opened up new peace vistas

“We are so humbled by the treatment we got from the people of Kabul. They welcomed us with open arms and treated us with so much respect,” a Taliban fighter in Kabul told this writer. “The ceasefire was a good idea and it makes us optimistic about the peace process. We are all tired of the battles and want to stop fighting,” the 28-year-old fighter said, adding that it was his first visit to Kabul and that he was impressed by the city.

This sentiment resonated across Afghanistan. “We want peace and security. Afghanistan is our country and Afghans are our brothers,” Mullah Zahir, a local Taliban commander in the northern province of Baghlan said while visiting the capital city of Pul-e-Khumri during the ceasefire. “You have faced so many problems in the past,” he said, addressing the locals. “Things will be different after this [period of ceasefire],” he promised, adding that the Taliban would be open to talking to the Afghan government.

Attacks on check-posts

However, that was not how the events unfolded later. The end of the ceasefire also saw a quick end to the bonhomie. While the Afghan government, encouraged by the results, extended the ceasefire for another 10 days, the Taliban refused to oblige. Within hours, the group had mounted attacks on several check-posts. Worst among these were the attacks in Badghis province, where they killed 30 Afghan soldiers. Just days earlier, the militants had shared a moment of brotherhood with the local forces in the same province, even taking selfies with the Deputy Governor.

Yet, the truce, despite its brevity, highlighted the possibility of restarting peace negotiations. “We now know that the Taliban are just as exhausted with the war as we are, and that most of their fighters don’t want to continue fighting against us,” said Abdullah Nemati, Governor of Baghlan. “This ceasefire raised hopes for a better future. It has paved the way for a fruitful dialogue with the Taliban,” he said. “They all cried because it was an emotional moment for all of them. They don’t want to kill their brothers [Afghans]. Their activities are influenced by foreigners,” he added, referring to the widely believed role of Pakistan in enabling the insurgency.

Ruchi Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Kabul.

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