No Ceasefire for Eid in Afghanistan
In June 2018, Afghanistan held a ceasefire during Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani committed to preserving the peace if the Taliban respected the agreement, and the temporary truce allowed Taliban fighters to interact with civilians. Three days without violence fostered unprecedented interactions between Taliban fighters, members of Afghan security forces, and police in Kabul, including reported instances of embracing one another in the street. Taliban fighters returned to villages to celebrate with family, and brief friendships formed between members from both sides. Unfortunately, the peace did not last; as Eid ended, the bloody conflict returned to its former pace.
Afghans hoped for the same provisional peace this year but instead faced violence. Head of the Afghan Taliban – Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada – vowed on June 1, that the organization would continue fighting until its objectives were met, indicating that Taliban members would not pause in combat this year. Akhundzada stated, “No one should expect us to pour cold water on the heated battlefronts of jihad or forget our 40-year sacrifices before reaching our objectives.”
Bombings in Kabul and the Taliban suicide bombing in Ghazni province on June 1 confirmed that Afghans would celebrate Eid without the promise of safety. After failed peace talks in Moscow between Taliban leaders and an Afghan peace council, including former president Hamid Karzai, a series of deadly bombings ensued across the country. A suicide bombing on May 30 killed six people outside the campus of Marshal Fahim National Defense University, beginning a wave of violence from the Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan. The Taliban attacked a U.S. convoy the following day, killing four Afghan bystanders.
The IS claimed responsibility for the bus bombing in Kabul that killed two and injured twenty-four on June 2, just two days after the previous IS attack. The bus, bound toward Kabul Education University, carried students, women, and civilians. Continuing the series of explosions, government employees from the Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission died in a bus bomb on June 3 despite increased security in the city in preparation for Eid; no groups immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing. These attacks perpetuate a large uptick in violence during Ramadan this year. Since May 6, Taliban violence has killed 200 civilians across the country, and over the past year almost 4,000 civilians have died, the most annual casualties on record. Instead of celebrating the upcoming Eid, Afghans await the holiday in fear.
Grassroots movements to end the bloodshed recommenced on May 30 under the People’s Peace Movement (PPM). The group left the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah and are marching to the territory controlled by the Taliban in Musa Qala. Fasting in accordance with Ramadan and facing extreme heat, the protestors continue to make their 100-mile journey to southern Afghanistan. From businessmen to students, the group of marchers has grown throughout the 30 miles of territory they have covered since departing from Lashkar Gah. Most members have witnessed the grave consequences of the war firsthand, losing family members and friends. The group hopes to ask the Taliban to agree to a truce, having lost faith in the traditional negotiations. The movement, which began the previous year, believe that before Afghanistan can hope to see removal of foreign forces, the Taliban must agree to a ceasefire. Taliban fighters, who argue that the PPM is funded by the Kabul government, detained marchers on June 1 for “discussions.” The remaining members have not been able to contact those held by the fighters, reaffirming the need for negotiations to hasten.
Afghanistan-born U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad began a multi-country tour on June 2 in Pakistan, the Taliban’s largest supporter, and will continue discussions in Afghanistan, Belgium, Germany, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. The urgency of the situation, evidenced by the violence of this year’s Ramadan, has led to another round of negotiations in Doha between Khalilzad and the Taliban, though the group refuses to meet with members of Ghani’s government.
Despite both sides agreeing that they have made progress during the previous six rounds, certain key points remain non-negotiable: The United States will not agree to withdrawal of troops until Taliban forces commit to a ceasefire and begin a dialogue with the Kabul government. Conversely, the Taliban will not meet any concessions without a U.S. withdrawal timeline, and refuses to negotiate with President Ghani’s government. Both sides agree that Afghanistan should not harbor armed militant groups like the IS, but the schism between the two parties in America’s longest armed conflict appears insolvable. As the death toll rises, the need for Khalilzad to make progress during his negotiations tour is evident.