Eid ceasefire between Taliban and government gives respite to weary Afghans

Citizens long used to war took the opportunity to take a holiday during the second truce of the year

Afghan Muslims greet each other after offering Eid al-Adha prayers in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, July 31, 2020. During the Eid al-Adha, or Feast of Sacrifice, Muslims slaughter sheep or cattle and distribute portions of the meat to the poor. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

There have been very few moments of respite for Afghans in the past decade, Mohammad Khalid, a 34-year-old security official from Parwan, will tell you.

“When we heard of the Eid ceasefire, we decided to go Bamiyan with the family,” Khalid told The National, referring to the central Afghan province which is an oasis of calm in an otherwise troubled nation.

On July 28, the Taliban insurgency that has been at constant war with the Afghan government announced a three-day ceasefire for Eid Al Adha, instructing all fighters to refrain from attacking enemies unless provoked. This was the second such truce this year, and third one since the start of the conflict nearly 20 years ago.

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Peace is always good for business and economic growth. We had to hire more employees for this ceasefire. Just imagine how much better the business would be if we had permanent peace

Despite hopes for a weekend of total peace, the Afghan Ministry of Interior released a statement saying that the Taliban violated the three-day ceasefire in 38 incidents, including attacks and mine explosions, that resulted in 20 civilians killed and 40 others injured.

But Khalid was one of those with hope and wasted no time to jump on the opportunity for relief.

“The family has also mostly been under quarantine and we all needed a break from the stress of the Afghan life,” he said while on his way back from a three-day long vacation, the first of its kind he has taken in many years.

“I reached out to three other close families and we all agreed to hire a big van and ride together. We left on the very first day of the Eid ceasefire so we could utilise the full three days to explore this beautiful province I wanted to visit since I was young,” he shared.

It was Khalid’s first time in Bamiyan. And he was not alone: around 15 to 20,000 cars entered Bamiyan during the ceasefire, estimated Sarwar Jan, a 24-year-old manager of Bamyan Garden Guesthouse.

“This is the third ceasefire and we have been receiving more guests every time,” he said. “Last night we were fully booked and kept receiving more guests who begged us to let them sleep in the garden, or on the dining table and even rooftop. It was unbelievable!”

TOPSHOT - A security personnel walks past a wall mural with images of US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad (L) and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in Kabul on July 31, 2020. Afghans offered prayers marking the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha on July 31 as a three-day ceasefire between Taliban and government forces began, with many hoping the truce will lead to peace talks and the end of nearly two decades of conflict. / AFP / WAKIL KOHSAR

As he spoke, guests continued to pour in. One family asked the hotel if they could park their vehicle on the premises to sleep in it and use the hotel facilities.

“Peace is always good for business and economic growth. We had to hire more employees for this ceasefire. Just imagine how much better the business would be if we had permanent peace,” he added.

For generations of Afghans who have only known conflict, such moments of peace are highly valued and deeply cherished. They also provide a glimpse of what a peaceful Afghanistan would look like.

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Our districts and provinces have been destroyed in the war, and by the landmines that surround us. Our people are very poor and don't have basic needs of water, healthcare, roads, schools or clinics. Let's end this war

As a member of the Afghan security force in the usual times, Khalid could not have imagined taking this trip without risking his and the lives of his family. And even during this trip, he remained very cautious of their itinerary and travel plans.

"Since I work for security forces, the Taliban would’ve killed me if they had stopped us, so we planned our routes accordingly. We still can’t trust them, even with the ceasefire. The Taliban are brutal people who don’t treat others like human beings,” he said.

Indeed, for others like Esmatullah Salam, a telecommunications engineer from Ghanzi, the ceasefire didn’t provide the safety he had hoped for.

Mr Salam, who also worked as a civil activist with an organisation called Zawand, was killed while on the way to his village in Andar district for Eid celebrations, his friend and colleague Amin Ibrahimzai, told The National.

While the Taliban has not claimed responsibility, Mr Ibrahimzai insists that Mr Salam’s death was at the hands of the insurgent group that also previously killed the director of their organisation, Naqeeb Khaksar.

“Salam was distributing  Eid-e-Qurban meat to poor people in the village when he was picked by four Taliban fighters. Eyewitnesses told us that they took him in a car towards Wagaz district,” he said.

A couple of hours later, Mr Salam’s body was handed to the local clinic who informed the family that Mr Salam had been shot dead.

“Salam only had a message of peace for everyone. He was working on improving education in the village, he wasn’t with the government, and yet they killed him,” Mr Ibrahimzai said.

This is not the first time the Taliban had broken a ceasefire in Ghazni, Mr Ibrahimzai said.

“They killed a teacher in the same district (Wagaz) last Eid. Our people bore witness to these atrocities, and they know there is no group more brutal than the Taliban,” he said, adding this was a golden opportunity for the Taliban to know that they are committed to peace and prosperity of Afghanistan.

“I want to tell them, we are tired of the war,” he said, sending a message to the Taliban. “Our districts and provinces have been destroyed in the war, and by the landmines that surround us. Our people are very poor and don’t have basic needs of water, healthcare, roads, schools or clinics. Let’s end this war.”

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