The Taliban have announced a three-day ceasefire in Afghanistan after an upsurge in violence in which 11 people died in a bomb attack on a bus, and a gruesome attack on a girls' school in Kabul that killed dozens.
A Taliban spokesman said the group would halt “all offensive operations” later this week to mark the the end of Ramadan and the Muslim holiday of Eid. The pause was being called in order to secure “a peaceful and secure atmosphere”, the spokesman added.
Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, said his government would observe a similar truce. Mr Ghani called on the Taliban to announce a permanent end to the country’s bloody war, amid fears the security situation is poised to get worse.
Basir Ahmad, a shopkeeper and former army soldier in Herat, said he could now go and visit his parents in a Taliban controlled-area. He said: “Of course I’m happy. But there will be no good news other than me and my family going home to my parents and brothers for Eid.”
Last month, the Biden administration announced it would withdraw all US forces by September 11th, 20 years after the US’s 2001 military intervention. Nato troops are also pulling out.
Since last year, intermittent peace talks have taken place in Doha but there seems little prospect of a lasting settlement, with a mistrustful Taliban keen to grab further territory. Washington has yet to determine what security assistance it will provide in future and it is unclear if a weak central government can survive a fresh insurgent onslaught.
Hours after the imminent ceasefire was announced, a bus struck a roadside mine in southern Zabul province, interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said. Eleven people were killed and at least 24 injured.
Early on Monday, another blast hit a minibus in Parwan province, north of the capital, Kabul, killing two people and wounding nine, officials said. Improvised explosive devices litter the countryside. The Taliban has used them extensively.
The latest explosions follow a brutal attack on Saturday at the Sayed Al-Shuhada girls’ school. A suicide bomber blew up a car full of explosives outside the building in Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi district. The pupils rushed outside in panic – only for two more bombs to go off, killing many more.
“The ceasefire has no meaning for us in the west of Kabul. We will not even have Eid as many of the families here are in grief over the dead girls,” Sharif Watandoost, a local resident, said.
More funerals were taking place on Monday. Mr Watandoost, a member of a volunteer group that helps families bury relatives, said one girl had died overnight from her injuries. The death toll – at 67 on Monday – was likely to rise further, he said, and could pass 80.
The government has blamed the Taliban, which denies responsibility. The victims were members of Afghanistan’s mostly Shia Hazara community. Extremist Sunni Islamist militants have long targeted the minority group, with frequent attacks on mosques, schools, rallies and hospitals.
The Hazaras have complained that the government has failed to protect them. The Taliban have stepped up their attacks since May 1st – the original deadline for US troops to withdraw agreed by the Trump administration. In recent days, heavy fighting has been under way for control of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province.
“We, the Hazara people are so much concerned about the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. We believe that the Taliban’s thinking has not changed regarding us,” Mr Watandoost said.
“Many of us, including my own relatives, are leaving Afghanistan. We feel that the US has surrendered us to the Taliban. Americans just want to leave”.
“We will again be tortured,” he predicted.
The Hazaras took advantage of the US security presence in Afghanistan to send their daughters to school. Many played an active role in politics and the wider workforce. The prospect of the Taliban’s return – and a possible civil war – has prompted widespread dismay.
“I’m deeply concerned about my future. The Taliban have not changed. They have the same rules they had 20 years ago in areas under their control,” Sonia Ahmadi, a graduate in Herat said. “I’m concerned that I’ll lose my very basic rights once the Americans leave”.
She added: “The Taliban’s return to power means that the female half of the Afghan community will go backwards. I will not be able to go out without a male companion. I will not be able to work, go to a café, restaurants or protest, so I’ll be restricted a lot. I should wait and see if they even allow me to breathe.”
Maryam Ayoubi, who has an online business in western Farah province, said under the Taliban it would be impossible to be an “independent woman”. “I’m looking for a way to leave Afghanistan. If you don’t have the right to education and work, this country is not a good place to stay. I’m prepared for very bad days,” she said. – Guardian