“It’s not enough,” said Rafiullah Hedayat, a former journalist who lost his job when the news outlet he worked for lost international funding. For years he covered Kunduz, and, though unemployed, he has remained there despite it being one of the most volatile areas in the country.
“Every Afghan wants an end to violence and a permanent cease-fire. The continuation of the fighting is not acceptable to anyone,” he said.
The three-day cease-fire, which has largely held — aside from a bombing at a mosque just outside Kabul that the Taliban denied involvement in — demonstrates that both sides are capable of largely pausing violence in Afghanistan, but it does not bring the Taliban and the Afghan government any closer to a peace agreement, and many Afghans fear that once violence resumes, it will only increase.
As Taliban fighters have pushed forward in the past few weeks, government-controlled areas around provincial capitals and towns have shrunk. In Kunduz, Hedayat said gunfire had been nearly constant, audible almost everywhere in the city every day and night, before the cease-fire. The atmosphere is so tense, he said, that he does not leave his home unless it is absolutely necessary.
Many Afghans welcome any cessation in clashes.
“If the bloodshed stops even for an hour,” said Bismillah Watandost, a member of Afghanistan Peace Movement, “it is a gain for Afghans.”
“It is an honor if no civilian, member of security forces or Taliban fighter gets killed or wounded in these three days. We are happy about it,” he added.
Abdul Ahad Kakar, a provincial council member who is also from Kunduz, said, “If one day of cease-fire saves one life, then it is a trophy.”
Others hope the three-day cease-fire can build momentum for a longer halt in the violence. U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said he hoped the cease-fire would jump-start long-stalled peace talks intended to get both sides to agree to a permanent cease-fire as a key element of the political settlement of the conflict.
“I welcome the announcements by the Taliban and the Afghan government to observe an Eid ceasefire. Violence has been horrific in recent weeks, and the Afghan people have paid the price,” he said in a tweet.
The cease-fire was declared by the Taliban on Sunday to mark the Eid holiday and “provide a peaceful and secure atmosphere” so Afghans could celebrate with “a greater peace of mind,” according to a statement posted on Twitter by Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the group.
President Ashraf Ghani quickly reciprocated the Taliban’s announcement by calling for a halt to offensive operations. But he also repeated calls for an enduring end to the violence.
“On behalf of the Afghanistan people, once again we ask the Taliban to agree on a permanent cease-fire which is the rightful demand of the people and return to the negotiating table,” a presidential palace statement said.
This is the third cease-fire declared to mark a holiday in the past three years. The first was unprecedented and allowed Taliban fighters to travel into government-held cities and towns. But some reports said the move resulted in large numbers of Taliban defections, and the cease-fires that have followed have come with orders for Taliban fighters to remain in Taliban territory and not to interact with Afghan troops.
The three days of Eid that began Thursday and follow the end of the holy month of Ramadan are celebrated by many Afghans by receiving relatives in their homes and traveling to visit family in their provinces of origin. The expansion of Taliban control along Afghanistan’s highways and the recent uptick in clashes between government and Taliban forces have made the roads dangerous for many Afghans.
The mosque bombing took place in a district just north of Kabul as worshipers were gathering for Friday prayers. The attack killed 12, including the mosque’s imam, and wounded 15, according to the Interior Ministry. The Taliban quickly issued a statement denying involvement.
“We condemn the martyrdom of 10 people and the wounding of many others in the strongest terms,” said Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman.
Past cease-fires have largely been followed by an uptick in violence, and many Afghans worry that the same might happen again. The Taliban launched massive attacks across the country after the end of an Eid cease-fire in 2019, triggering intense clashes with Afghan security forces. Violence also intensified after the cease-fire that went into effect in 2018.
“I believe it is not a cease-fire. It is just a break, so both sides can rest and then get ready for more violence,” said Mohammad Iqbal Khayber, leader of the Afghanistan Peace Movement. “People are disappointed.”