Reuters & Al-jazeera::
A three-day ceasefire agreed by the warring Taliban and Afghan government has come into force as celebrations for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr got underway, after weeks of heavy fighting across the country.
The temporary deal starting on Thursday was proposed by the Taliban and agreed to by President Ashraf Ghani.
Violence has intensified in Afghanistan since the United States missed a May 1 deadline, agreed with the Taliban last year, to withdraw all of its troops.
It will only be the fourth pause in fighting in nearly 20 years of conflict, and is expected to give respite to Afghan families as they celebrate Eid, which comes at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
Al Jazeera’s Filio Kontrafouri, reporting from Kabul, said Afghans who have long been suffering from the ongoing violence breathed a sigh of relief.
“It is refreshing to see families with children walking around Kabul this morning be able to be a bit as a result of the ceasefire,” she said.
The Taliban and the Afghan government launched peace talks in September last year, but progress has stalled despite international efforts to jump-start the negotiations.
Ceasefires in the past have largely held, in what is widely thought to be an exercise by the Taliban leadership to prove they have firm control over the myriad factions across the country that make up the hardline movement.
The US and NATO have pledged to withdraw their troops by September 11. While the Taliban have avoided engaging US troops, they have stepped up attacks against Afghan government forces.
Officials blamed the Taliban who denied they were involved in the bombing and condemned it.
Meanwhile, the hashtag “AfghansWantPermanentCeasefire” trended in Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter in the lead-up to Eid.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the Reuters news agency that the social media trend was an “emotional thing” and that the group “respected” these emotions.
“But a ceasefire is something bigger than emotion, it is related to the larger issue of our country,” he said, adding that there would be no permanent ceasefire until the group’s goal of restoring an Islamic government is achieved.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it would continue to support Afghanistan.
“Let me assure you that we have no plans to go anywhere. We intend to stay the course and work with all of you,” said head of UNAMA Deborah Lyons in a statement to mark Eid.
PERMANENT CEASEFIRE HASHTAG
Meanwhile, the hashtag “AfghansWantPermanentCeasefire” trended in Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter in the lead up to Eid, which marks the end of the Ramadan holy fasting month.
Facebook user Sadaf Jamali wrote: “I kill people in Ramadan, I don’t kill people in Eid, but after Eid I will (kill) them again…This is Taliban’s logic #AfghansWantPermanentCeasefire”.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters that the social media trend was an “emotional thing” and that the group “respected” these emotions.
A day before the ceasefire was to begin, Taliban insurgents launched an offensive and took control of a key district located an hour’s drive from the capital Kabul.
Washington, which is pulling its remaining troops out of Afghanistan over the next four months, had long said its withdrawal was conditional on the Taliban reducing violence, but now says it is leaving no matter what.
U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad welcomed the announcement of the three-day ceasefire, but said on Twitter that “Afghans deserve much more: a political settlement & a permanent ceasefire.”
“I wish they had announced a longer ceasefire,” he said. “Like hundreds of thousands of other Afghans I have to wait for a real and permanent ceasefire…only a miracle can make this possible.”