KABUL — A three-day holiday will begin here Tuesday without a cease-fire, after a wave of violence in recent days left at least 17 people dead and dozens injured.
An unprecedented cease-fire last year at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan saw an influx of Taliban fighters into urban areas, where they mingled with civilians, posed for selfies and raised expectations for successful peace talks that would put an end to the country’s drawn-out war.
Despite the spike in violence during Ramadan this year, many were optimistic that a similar arrangement would again be made.
But negotiations failed to result in a truce that would put even a temporary end to the fighting. Violence has surged during the holy month, which Muslims observe with fasting and prayer, leaving civilians on edge as it comes to a close, in what is supposed to be one of the most joyous occasions on the Muslim calendar.
“Our hope has been broken,” said Ahmad Shoaib Shirzad, 33, a banker in Kabul. “Every second, I fear something will happen in front of me.”
On Monday afternoon, a bomb exploded on a bus carrying government employees in Kabul, leaving at least five dead and 10 wounded. The Islamic State asserted responsibility for two deadly attacks in recent days: One at a military academy Thursday and several bombings, including one on a university student bus, on Sunday. On Friday, the Taliban attacked a U.S. convoy, injuring four U.S. troops and killing four Afghan bystanders.
Hopes were high for a cease-fire last week when a 14-member Taliban delegation and several high-profile figures from Afghanistan, including former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, held talks in Moscow. But no deal was reached after the three-day meeting.
“We were arguing for a cease-fire for the Afghan people. That’s what the Afghan people want,” Karzai said in an interview at his home in Kabul on Monday. “[The Taliban] had different ideas. Some of those ideas were concerns that they had, which we understood, but to which our response was: We want a cease-fire anyway.”
He said he was not surprised a cease-fire wasn’t agreed upon but still hopes “very much there will be at least, if not a formal cease-fire, a lot of reduction in violence.”
Haroun Mir, an Afghan political analyst, said “people are very suspicious” about Karzai’s role in the peace talks.
“He wants to save his legacy and be the person who is trying to bring peace in Afghanistan,” Mir said. “Is he trying to do something to develop the country, or does he want to regain some of his lost influence in the country as a major political leader?”
Karzai insisted that he was “trying to help the government” and that his only ambition was to bring peace to Afghanistan.
“I tried first as the president, and I’m [now] trying for it as a citizen,” he said.
But after the talks in Moscow, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said only that they had “discussed the cease-fire, and we will continue this discussion,” leaving Karzai and other participants returning to Kabul largely empty-handed.
In Kabul, there is widespread disappointment that there is likely to be no truce. For some, happy memories of last year’s peaceful festivities are a painful reminder of the lack of progress Afghanistan has made this year in putting an end to the conflict.
“Especially during Eid days, we should feel calm,” Shirzad said. “Their families, our families, should both have peace,” he said, referring to Taliban fighters and civilians.
Last year, Hasibullah Mohibi, 18, traveled outside of Kabul for Eid, missing the arrival of Taliban fighters into the city where he grew up. He hoped this year he would have a chance to greet them himself.
“I was sad that I was not in Kabul to meet the Taliban for the first time, when they did not intend to harm anyone and no one intended to harm them,” he said.
For years, Mohibi has worked at a food stand near a busy park in Kabul, frying bolani, an Afghan stuffed flatbread, to sell to passersby from under an orange awning. Last month, he was there when Taliban fighters attacked the nearby compound of Virginia-based nonprofit Counterpart International, killing at least five people and wounding more than 20 others, including at least one foreigner.
Mohibi ran to the scene of the attack and helped carry the wounded to the hospital. The experience left him shaken, fearing he would not escape the next Taliban assault alive.
Despite the carnage he has witnessed, Mohibi said he would welcome Taliban fighters back to Kabul if they came under the guidelines of a cease-fire.
“Everyone is fed up with the war,” he said. “We want a cease-fire.”
Shirzad said that he regrets not joining Taliban fighters in the streets of Kabul last year. “I wanted to go and hug each other, speak with each other,” he said.
Other civilians expressed more hesitation over a cease-fire that could see Taliban fighters return to urban areas for the holidays.
Reza Pazhohish, 30, who works for Afghanistan’s chief executive’s office in Kabul, said that last year the militants returned in large numbers to his home city, Ghazni, in central Afghanistan. Some of them never left, he said, and two months later, his brother, a police officer, was ambushed and killed in a Taliban attack. Pazhohish called his family “cease-fire victims.”
Now he would support a truce to end the fighting, but not one that would allow the Taliban to rejoin civilians in Kabul and other cities.
“I’m very worried about safety during Eid,” he said. “There are a lot of gatherings. . . . Maybe there will be a suicide attack.”
Salahuddin Sayed and Sharif Hassan contributed to this report.