Pedestrians walk past a banner in the likeness of Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s president, in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg)

Afghan President Ghani Announces Rare Ceasefire With Taliban

(Bloomberg) -- Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani announced a rare and temporary ceasefire with the Taliban after the country’s Islamic Council this week issued an edict that forbade suicide bombing and had urged the group to join peace efforts.

“The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan announces ceasefire from the 27th of Ramadan until the fifth day of Eid-ul-Fitr,” Ghani said on Twitter on Thursday, referring to the end of the holy Islamic month. It’s Ghani’s first offer to halt hostilities since he came to power in 2014. He urged the Taliban to use this opportunity to realize “their violent campaign is not winning them hearts and minds but further alienating the Afghan people from their cause.”

Ghani’s call raises hope that negotiations with the Taliban for a full peace settlement may be within reach. The U.S.-backed president in February offered the Taliban unconditional talks, but the insurgent group publicly refused to engage with what it calls an illegitimate government and has responded by stepping up attacks. Ghani said the ceasefire didn’t extend to Islamic State and other foreign militants and it was initially unclear if the Taliban had agreed to stop fighting.

“It is too early now to make any reactions,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said in a text message to Bloomberg on Thursday. “We will consult with our authorities on the ceasefire issue and get back to you.”

Peace Talks

Last week the Taliban denied they were holding peace talks with Ghani’s government after U.S. General John Nicholson, who heads NATO forces in Afghanistan, said negotiations were being held with leaders from the insurgent group to end the 17-year conflict. Fighting has continued in the meanwhile and on Monday when the Afghan Islamic Council issued its edict a suicide bomber detonated explosives at the gathering of thousands of clerics in the capital, Kabul.

“I’m quite skeptical of this ceasefire having a significant impact -- the Taliban responded earlier to Ghani’s unprecedented and unconditional peace offer with more attacks and violence,” said Jawid Kohistani, a former Afghan army official in Kabul. “Ghani’s ceasefire offer may only help the Taliban to make advances and that’s quite dangerous.”

The U.S. has struggled to extricate itself from its longest war and President Donald Trump’s administration has poured more soldiers into Afghanistan and waged a series of air strikes as it seeks to regain the military edge against the Taliban and Islamic State.

Trump last year said 16,000 U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan indefinitely to deny terrorists a haven and support Ghani’s attempts to negotiate peace with the Taliban, which is estimated to control and contest nearly half of the country.

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