HERAT, Afghanistan — Taliban fighters put down their weapons and mingled joyfully with Afghan civilians and security force members in provincial centers across the war-torn country Friday, celebrating both the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, and the beginning of an unprecedented three-day cease-fire in the 16-year conflict.
Taliban members distributed leaflets in this western province and the surrounding areas that praised the bravery of insurgent warriors in battle but also welcomed Eid al-Fitr, the post-
Ramadan holiday, and called on insurgents to “cease all fighting and take up defensive positions” until after Eid ends Sunday.
Young men danced and sang in the streets of Herat on Thursday night, shouting “Cease-fire! Cease-fire!” in Dari and Pashto.
Videos posted on social media also showed jubilant crowds in Zabul, Wardak and Logar provinces dancing to drums and flutes, while insurgents hugged local residents and posed for selfies with them. One video showed two large banners with the faces of President Ashraf Ghani and Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada, along with a message saying, “Thank you so much for announcing the cease-fire for the happiness of Afghans.”
Ghani, after offering Eid prayers Friday in his palace in Kabul, noted that the Taliban had honored the truce since midnight and said he hoped it could be prolonged beyond Eid. A caravan of peace activists drove from the capital city to nearby Logar province, a Taliban stronghold, where one member said they asked “both sides to talk to each other and end this war.”
A Taliban official in Herat, who uses the single name Izzatullah, said in a brief telephone interview that the group recognized how much the public had welcomed the cease-fire and that after Eid its leaders would discuss whether to extend it.
The unexpected outpouring of hope, on one of Islam’s most important and festive days, was somewhat dampened by two violent attacks that left a dozen people dead in the days immediately preceding it. In Ghazni province, a roadside bomb exploded under a minibus, and in Jalalabad city, insurgents tried to storm an education building and were shot dead.
Nevertheless, the upbeat mood that swept the country Friday seemed to be gathering strength as the day progressed. Taliban officials had said previously that they might still attack foreign forces during the truce, but no violent incidents or cease-fire violations were reported. By mid-evening, hundreds of armed but peaceful Taliban were reported to be swarming into the central district of Qalat to join the celebration.
The initial success of the first cease-fire in the protracted and bloody conflict seemed to reflect a deepening war-weariness on both sides and stepped-up official efforts to end hostilities, even as Taliban forces have continued to wage aggressive campaigns to capture rural areas, launch countless attacks in Kabul and reject government overtures for peace talks.
Early this month, a large gathering of Afghanistan’s leading Islamic clerics called for an end to the conflict, declaring that it was un-Islamic, and said that peace talks must be held. As that meeting was dispersing, a suicide bomber attacked the site, leaving 14 people dead.
Last month, Ghani made a generous peace proposal to the insurgents, offering them a political role and recognition if they were to renounce the fight. The insurgents ignored it and kept on fighting. But early this week, when Ghani announced a unilateral cease-fire during Eid with no conditions, the insurgents accepted the offer.
“People are so happy at the cease-fire that they have forgot the happiness of Eid,” Noor Agha, a police official in Zabul, said in one video as he watched scores of smiling Taliban fighters enter the bazaar. “We all want the government to make more of these opportunities.”