The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a deadly bombing in Afghanistan on Monday that showed how a seven-day cease-fire between Taliban insurgents and the United States could be a step toward peace in the war-ravaged country.
After nearly a half-century of war, both sides seem eager to take the truce one step further and halt hostilities. During the seven-day truce that began Friday, Taliban fighters stormed the key city of Ghazni, and U.S. drones bombed Islamic State positions in Nangarhar, an eastern province that shares a border with Pakistan.
However, to allow for a lasting peace, the two sides would need to make concessions.
Some of the efforts include talks on possible constitutional amendments, religious conversion, prison reform and education reforms. Both sides have begun talks in recent weeks on demilitarization of district centers and provincial capitals.
“Everything depends on the other side,” Mohammad Yasin Ahmadi, a former parliamentarian from southern Helmand province, told the South Asia Times. “If the Taliban abide by the cease-fire and respond to an offer of peace by the government, that would surely have a positive impact.”
Ahmadi said he hoped a cease-fire would be followed by negotiations for national reconciliation.
“If there’s a general agreement between the two sides, I don’t think there’ll be much problem,” he said.
Mohammad Hassan Mubarez, an election observer in Ghazni, told the Associated Press that Taliban fighters in the eastern province had withdrawn by Monday, and that by evening “civilians and students could walk in Ghazni, travel in the city center and buildings were open.”
Ahmadi said Helmand, one of the Afghan provinces where President Hamid Karzai’s government was active and militiamen who defended its troops received support from the U.S., might see a similar change of attitude after the cease-fire.
But, he added, there was no guarantee.
“Even though the people have seen the Taliban reducing the number of casualties, their base and its heavy weapons remain in the fight,” he said.
The abruptness of the cease-fire surprised many. Afghan officials had warned it would not be long and that it would be up to each side to carry out its end of the bargain.
The humanitarian catastrophe in the southwest was evident with hospitals empty of patients and far fewer people heading toward hospital or going on their daily errands. The roads were free of wreckage or debris.
At the Ghazni hospital, senior physician Rafiullah Rozi said more than 250 people had been killed and 200 wounded. He expected even higher casualty figures as people made their way toward hospitals.
“We are full of dead bodies here,” he said.
At an outdoor memorial service, survivors and mourners spoke of their woes. One elderly woman, bleeding from a gunshot wound, screamed at mourners, “I don’t know what’s happened to my children,” she said.
“Karzai’s time has ended. The new time is Ramazan,” she said, in reference to Islam’s two-month break in the month of Ramadan. She later died of her wounds.
The Taliban had initially threatened to cancel the cease-fire, saying it was being undermined by foreign drone attacks and bad weather. President Ashraf Ghani then reasserted his leadership of the cease-fire by talking about a deal to set up “parliamentary and presidential talks.”
On Monday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said his group remained “prepared to end the ceasefire if we receive any threat or anything from the side of the government.”
But the Taliban also said it would “allow the Afghan people to celebrate our fast of Ramazan, and [would] call our positions and forces.”
He later said Taliban fighters would stage their own cease-fire, according to the Associated Press.
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