Afghanistan: Taliban deny ceasefire breach after car bomb
At least 26 killed at gathering of Taliban and Afghan forces in eastern city of Nangarhar
A Taliban operative holds a flag in Kabul, Afghanistan. The writing on the flag reads: “There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” Photograph: Mohammad Ismail/Reuters
A car bomb killed at least 26 people at a gathering of Taliban and Afghan armed forces in the eastern city of Nangarhar on Saturday, an official has said, as soldiers and militants elsewhere in the country celebrated an unprecedented ceasefire.
Dozens of unarmed Taliban militants had earlier entered the Afghan capital and other cities to celebrate, coinciding with the end of the Ramadan fasting season. Soldiers and militants exchanged hugs and took selfies on their smartphones.
But in some provinces the insurgents were carrying rocket launchers, grenades and other ammunition.
Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor of Nangarhar, confirmed a car bomb was responsible for the attack in the town of Ghazi Aminullah Khan, on the main Torkham-Jalalabad road. He had earlier said a rocket-propelled grenade was to blame.
The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack. Afghanistan also faces insurgencies from Islamic State and the Taliban-linked Haqqani network.
“The incident has nothing to do with the Taliban,” said spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. “The area where the blast happened is close to our front line. Some of our members went there to celebrate Eid. Our members suffered casualties.”
The Taliban announced a surprise three-day ceasefire over the Eid holiday, which began on Friday, except against foreign forces. It overlaps with an Afghan government ceasefire which lasts until Wednesday.
President Ashraf Ghani said in an address to the nation that he would extend the ceasefire with the Taliban but did not give a timeframe. He also asked the Taliban to extend their three-day ceasefire, which is due to end on Sunday.
It is unclear if Mr Ghani knew about the bomb in the east when he made his address.
Taliban wearing traditional headgear entered Kabul through gates in the south and southeast. Traffic jams formed where people stopped to take pictures of the fighters with their flags. The Taliban urged people to come forward and take selfies.
“They are unarmed, as they handed over their weapons at the entrances,” said Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanekzai. Their weapons would be returned when they leave, he said.
Video and pictures on news websites showed cheerful soldiers and Taliban hugging one another and exchanging Eid greetings in Logar province, south of Kabul, and Zabul in the south and central Maidan Wardak. Some people were dancing and clapping as onlookers took photos.
“Most peaceful Eid”
Members of rights groups organised a brief meeting between Afghan forces and Taliban insurgents in Helmand’s capital city, Lashkar Gah, where the Taliban have delivered a series of blows to government forces this year.
Men and women gathered around the soldiers and Taliban fighters and urged them to keep their weapons holstered before they hugged each other.
“It was the most peaceful Eid. For the first time we felt safe. It is hard to describe the joy,” said Qais Liwal, a student in Zabul.
The main square of Kunduz city, capital of the province of the same name, which has been scene to a series of bloody clashes, became a friendly meeting ground.
A video showed a huge crowd of people screaming and whistling as they welcomed the Taliban. In some districts of the eastern city of Jalalabad, civilians were offering dry fruit, traditional sweets and ice cream to Taliban militants.
The Taliban are fighting US-led Nato forces, combined under the Resolute Support mission, and the US-backed government to restore sharia, or Islamic law, after their removal by US-led forces in 2001.
Resolute Support said it was hopeful that the Taliban stick to their ceasefire “and we hope that pause leads to dialogue and progress on reconciliation”. – Reuters