The Taliban announced Saturday it will halt offensive operations against government security forces across Afghanistan during three-day festivities of Eid al Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
The cease-fire coincides with the unilateral weeklong halting of anti-Taliban operations by the Afghan government starting Tuesday.
An insurgent statement said the Taliban leadership has also ordered his fighters not to hold meetings in civilian areas during the holiday period to enable their countrymen peacefully celebrate the festival. But it vowed to continue attacks on U.S.-led foreign troops in the country.
This will be the first time since 2002 that the Islamist insurgency will cease hostilities in Afghanistan, where it controls or contests nearly half of 407 Afghan districts.
Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, Omar Zakhilwal swiftly welcomed the insurgent gesture.
It is an “encouraging and important step towards prospects for peace. Hope the pleasure of shedding no Afghan blood in Eid becomes so overwhelming that rest of year is also declared as Afghan Eid,” Zakhilwal tweeted.
The Taliban in its announcement from its chief Mullah Hibatullah Akhunzada, has also said it will release some prisoners after seeking commitments from them that they will not rejoin Afghan forces.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani earlier this week ordered his forces to stop offensive operations against the Taliban to encourage insurgents to come to the table and seek a negotiated end to the 17-year-old conflict.
President Ghani praised the Taliban move in remarks posted on his official Twitter account.
“We welcome the three days ceasefire announced by the Taliban starting on the first day of Eid. This comes following the bold decision by the Islamic republic of #Afghanistan to cease the fight for a period of time.”
Renowned American expert on Afghanistan, Barnet Rubin, urged all parties to seize the moment to help bring an end to decades of Afghan conflict.
“May all parties, far and near, involved in this 40-year war over Afghanistan work to transform the truce of Eid into a prelude to peace, so that Eid… of 2018 is remembered for all time as truly Mubarak [blessed],” Rubin tweeted. He served in the previous U.S. administration and was part of efforts to promote a negotiated end to Afghan war.
The move has been widely welcomed and the U.S. has promised to honor Ghani’s peace gesture.
Washington confirmed Thursday it has asked neighboring Pakistan to help in facilitating an Afghan peace and reconciliation process by persuading the Taliban to engage in talks with Kabul.
Lisa Curtis, a deputy assistant to U.S. President Donald Trump and senior director for South and Central Asia at the National Security Council, explained to a seminar the U.S. is pursuing “multiple lines of effort” to promote Afghan peace. She said an important component of the effort is to ensure that Pakistan plays “a constructive role” in it.
“We have asked for Pakistan’s assistance in facilitating a peace process and we have sought to understand Pakistan’s own core security concerns and ensure that its interests are taken into account in any peace process,” Curtis said.
Insurgents allegedly have long used sanctuaries on Pakistani soil to plan attacks in Afghanistan.
The Pakistan military says its forces have cleared their territory of all terrorism infrastructure and no insurgent safe havens are left in the country.
Pakistani officials however acknowledge families of some Taliban leaders and fighters might still be residing along with nearly 2.7 million Afghan refugees the country hosts and they do not rule out the presence of “residual” insurgent fighters hiding in the refugee population.
But Islamabad says its forces are closely monitoring and making sure any Afghan living on Pakistan soil as a refugee is not participating in the violence in Afghanistan.