The Taliban on Sunday ordered its fighters in Afghanistan to avoid gatherings of security forces and civilians, a day after a suicide bomber killed 36 people including members of the militant group celebrating an unprecedented ceasefire.
Saturday’s attack on the outskirts of Jalalabad in the eastern province of Nangarhar marred an otherwise extraordinary Eid holiday as Taliban members hugged, posed for selfies and prayed with Afghan police and troops, politicians and civilians around the country – scenes that would have been unthinkable only a few days ago.
It was the first formal nationwide ceasefire since the 2001 U.S. invasion and the display of jubilation and unity has fuelled hopes among war-weary Afghans that peace is possible.
The attack on a crowd celebrating the truce in Rodat district also wounded at least 60 other people and was blamed by officials on Islamic State. After the bombing the Taliban ordered fighters to stay at their posts or in areas under its control.
“To avoid harm to civilians, which God forbid we may cause [by our presence], all commanders should stop mujahedeen from attending such gatherings,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter.
“The enemy has misused the ceasefire issue and there is a chance of more such bad incidents happening.”
Some Taliban commanders also told AFP they disapproved of their fighters visiting government-controlled areas and celebrating with security forces.
Mujahid made no mention of President Ashraf Ghani’s announcement on Saturday extending the government’s eight-day ceasefire with the Taliban that was due to end on Tuesday, and his call for the Taliban to do the same.
To respect the public's wishes and to support their demands about peace, I am ordering the security and defense forces to extend the ceasefire from the fourth day of Eid. We will soon share the details of the proposed ceasefire with the nation.
— Ashraf Ghani (@ashrafghani) June 16, 2018
Ghani also said 46 Taliban prisoners had been released, a trend that “is going to continue.”
He said that the government would provice medical and humanitarian assistance to wounded Taliban fighters, and that Taliban prisoners would be allowed to contact and see their families.
Other militants, including Islamic State-Khorasan Province, are not part of the government’s ceasefire.
The Taliban had agreed to a truce but only for the first three days of Eid, which started Friday, promising not to attack Afghan soldiers or police. They would, however, continue attacking U.S.-led NATO troops.
Ghani’s extension of the ceasefire drew immediate international support and calls for the Taliban to reciprocate.
A group of peace activists who have been marching from Helmand province to Kabul for the last month called on the government and Taliban to extend the ceasefire.
The European Union called the truce “historic.” NATO’s Resolute Support mission and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan vowed to respect Ghani’s announcement.
#Afghanistan High Peace Council (HPC) on Sunday called on the Taliban to extend the ceasefire as its at the request of the people. HPC says it will cooperate with the Taliban. pic.twitter.com/k5e8ly4TXx
— TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) June 17, 2018
The head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, charged with negotiating with the Taliban, called Sunday on the Taliban to “consider the wishes of the people” and extend its own ceasefire.
“If the ceasefire is extended, the next step will be the exchange of prisoners and then we will have a good base for the start of direct negotiations between the two sides,” Mohammad Karim Khalili told reporters.
With reporting from AFP