WASHINGTON - The Afghan government is mulling over whether to announce another cease-fire with the Taliban during next month’s Eid holiday, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Saturday.
“Given the desire of the Afghan people, the country’s religious clerics and the fact that last Eid’s cease-fire was a successful experience, there is willingness on both sides to announce another cease-fire during Eid,” spokesman Haroon Chakansuri told reporters in Kabul.
Last month’s unprecedented cease-fire with insurgents was Ghani’s initiative and demonstrated the government’s commitment to peace in the country, Chakansuri said.
The Taliban reciprocated the cease-fire during the three days of Eid but rejected Ghani’s offer of extending the cease-fire for another three months.
During those three days, Taliban fighters were, for the first time, seen on the streets of Kabul and other major cities around the country, taking selfies with residents, soldiers and police.
Many, including senior American officials, saw the Taliban’s gesture during the Eid cease-fire as a sign that the insurgent group was ready to begin peace talks.
“The trip came in the wake of the cease-fire, which I think was revelatory for everyone in the region and certainly for us. There is palpable desire for peace that we saw not just among Afghan civilians, but among Taliban commanders and foot soldiers as well,” Alice Wells, the U.S. State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, told a group of reporters earlier this month after her trip to the region.
The issue of another cease-fire comes on the heels of a recent report in a major U.S. newspaper that the U.S. is considering direct talks with the Taliban.
Last week, The New York Times reported that U.S. President Donald Trump has instructed “top diplomats” to pursue “direct talks” with the Taliban in an effort to “jump-start” negotiations with the Taliban in the hope of ending the 17-year war in Afghanistan.
The Times report raised concerns among many in Afghanistan that direct U.S. engagement with the Taliban may undermine the Afghan government and reinforce a long-standing Taliban stance that they would only talk to Washington.
“Since Afghanistan is an ally and partner of the U.S., the U.S. should not undermine the independent and internationally recognized government of Afghanistan by engaging in direct talks with Taliban,” Abdul Wodood Paiman, a member of the Afghan parliament, told VOA.
Following the Times report, U.S. General John Nicholson, commander of international forces in Afghanistan, released a statement:
“The United States is not a substitute for the Afghan people or the Afghan government. My reaffirmation of Secretary [Mike] Pompeo’s statement in which he said peace talks would include a discussion of international forces and that the United States is ready to work with the Taliban, the Afghan government and the Afghan people toward lasting peace was mischaracterized.”
Last week, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department also told VOA that any talks with the Taliban would include the Afghan government.
“The United States is exploring all avenues to advance a peace process in close consultation with the Afghan government. Any negotiations over the political future of Afghanistan will be between the Taliban and Afghan government,” the spokesperson said.
On Saturday, Ghani spokesperson Chakansuri reiterated that peace talks with the Taliban would be Afghan-led and that there was regional and international consensus on the issue.
The Taliban has yet to react to the Times report, but Waheed Muzhda, a Kabul-based expert and former member of the insurgent group, told VOA that the group would announce its position only after the U.S. had made an official statement.
“In regards to U.S. officials' talks with the Taliban, the group has not seen an official statement from the U.S. and that’s why Taliban have not reacted to the news yet,” Muzhda said.
VOA’s Mohammad Habibzada and Nike Ching contributed to this report.