After 17 years of incessant fighting, the Taliban agreed to the Afghan government’s request for a ceasefire and laid down their arms for a brief three days during the festival of Eid this year.
For most Afghans, who have never known peace in a country that has been in turmoil and conflict for a good part of the last four decades, this was a most unusual experience, not only because of the pause in the war, but also because a lot of Taliban fighters took this opportunity to enter the cities and towns they usually target.
In scenes never witnessed before, Afghan forces, politicians and civilians extended a warm welcome, synonymous with Afghan hospitality, to the Taliban fighters, who came to their towns unarmed.
“I was born in this city, but I haven’t been able to visit it for years because of the fighting,” a Taliban insurgent told Asia Times when he entered Pul-e-Khumri, the capital of the northern city of Baghlan. “I and many other fighters are tired of the constant battles. This is our country and this is our city and we just want to live in peace here,” he said, choking back tears.
Similarly, other Taliban and Afghan soldiers also hugged each other and shared emotional moments during the truce.
Afghan civilians and forces celebrated Eid alongside the Taliban fighters they had attempted to capture. People took selfies with the notorious Taliban fighters they normally lived in constant fear of. Many discussions of peace were held between locals and the Taliban fighters, focusing on the need to end the conflict.
A surprisingly large number of fighters, much to the disapproval of their leaders, confessed that they too were tired of the conflict. “We hope this ceasefire will be extended,” some said.
While this sentiment resonated across both parties involved in the conflict, the ceasefire was not mutually extended. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani did announce a unilateral ceasefire for another 10 days, asking the Taliban to take the opportunity to negotiate a long-term peace deal.
However, the gesture was not reciprocated by the Taliban, who ordered their fighters to return to their posts. Several attacks were mounted by the Taliban on checkpoints across the country following the ceasefire, killing many Afghan soldiers.
Despite the quick return to conflict, the brief ceasefire raised tremendous hope in Afghans that peace was a possibility. Interactions with low level fighters revealed that the Taliban structure remains divided on how the conflict and peace talks should proceed.
Different factions in the Afghan government as well as its international partners were emboldened by the developments and were lobbying to bring the Taliban leadership to the negotiating table, a task that seems a little less daunting now than it was one week before Eid.