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Taliban, Ghani Declare Eid Cease Fire  05/24 09:55


   ISLAMABAD (AP) -- The Taliban and Afghanistan's president announced late 
Saturday a three-day cease-fire ahead of a major Islamic holiday that begins 
Sunday to mark the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

   The Taliban order, which was soon followed by an announcement via Twitter 
from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announcing the government "extends the offer 
of peace," comes just days after U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was in Kabul 
and Doha.

   Khalilzad on his trip urged both the Taliban and the Afghan government to 
reduce violence and move ahead with intra-Afghan negotiations, a key pillar of 
a U.S. peace deal with the Taliban signed in February to allow American troops 
to leave Afghanistan. The deal was also touted at the time as Afghanistan's 
best chance for peace after nearly four decades of war.

   The Taliban's cease-fire announcement follows an Eid al-Fitr message from 
the Taliban leader which said the insurgent group was committed to the peace 
deal, was not seeking to monopolize power and promised to guarantee the rights 
of women and men under an Islamic system.

   The directive ordered Taliban fighters not to fight but also not to 
fraternize with Afghan national security forces. The instructions seemed 
intended to avoid images that circulated during the last cease-fire in 2018, 
also during Eid celebrations, including Taliban fighters sharing ice cream and 
laughing with Afghan national security force soldiers.

   U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the announcement and urged 
all parties "to seize the opportunity and embrace an Afghan-led and 
Afghan-owned peace process," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

   Guterres, who called for a cease-fire in all global conflicts on March 23 to 
tackle the coronavirus pandemic stressed that "only a peace settlement can 
bring an end to the suffering in Afghanistan" and said that "the United Nations 
is committed to supporting the people and government of Afghanistan in this 
important endeavor," the spokesman said.

   In instructions issued Saturday, Taliban fighters were told "not to attack 
the enemy in any place but if there is attack from enemy in any place then a 
befitting defensive response shall be given."

   The order also warned Taliban fighters against entering "enemy" territory.

   Since signing the peace deal with the United States, the Taliban have not 
attacked U.S. and NATO troops but have staged numerous attacks against Afghan 
National Security forces.

   The peace deal calls for the full withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops by the 
end of next year but only if the Taliban honor their commitment to fight 
against terrorist groups and guarantee that Afghanistan cannot be used as a 
staging ground of attacks against the United States and its allies. The 
agreement also calls for talks between Taliban and the often-bickering 
political leadership in Kabul to decide the future of a post-war Afghanistan. 
It also calls for the release of prisoners by both the government and Taliban 
as a good will gesture ahead of the talks.

   An increase in attacks claimed by the Islamic State affiliate in 
Afghanistan, including a horrific attack on a maternity hospital in the Afghan 
capital last week, blamed on the IS affiliate, has given an urgency to finding 
a settlement between the government and Taliban. U.S. Department of Defense 
officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to 
speak to the media, said the Taliban is seen as an asset in the fight against 
IS in Afghanistan.

   The U.S. military in Afghanistan welcomed the cease-fire announcement saying 
"we reiterate our call for the militaries of all sides to reduce violence to 
allow the peace process to take hold."

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