Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani declared a provisional three-month ceasefire with the Taliban in a televised broadcast.
Anticipation had been mounting ahead of Ghani’s speech following mixed signals from the presidential palace over whether the government would offer a fresh truce – following a brief ceasefire in June.
“The conditional ceasefire will start tomorrow and it will continue as long as the Taliban preserves and respects it,” Ghani said on Sunday, August 19, Reuters reported.
Ghani said the ceasefire, which begins on the Eid al-Adha holiday, would continue until the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday which Afghanistan celebrates on November 21, AFP reported.
Ghani said his administration removed “all obstacles” to peace with the announcement following consultations with religious scholars, political parties and civil society groups.
“We call on the leadership of the Taliban to welcome the wishes of Afghans for a long lasting and real peace, and we urge them to get ready for peace talks based on Islamic values and principles,” he said, in an announcement as Afghans celebrated their independence day.
Ghani’s announcement followed a bloody week of fighting across Afghanistan which saw the Taliban launch a massive assault against the provincial capital Ghazni. The days-long battle killed hundreds. Taliban militants also captured an Afghan military base in Faryab province, and attacked military bases in Baghlan and Zabul provinces.
The Taliban did not immediately respond to the offer, but in a message from its leader published over the weekend to mark Eid al-Adha the group continued to push for direct talks with the United States.
Washington has repeatedly refused, saying negotiations must be Afghan-led. Last month, however, Taliban representatives met U.S. officials for talks in Qatar, though little is known about the details of the meeting.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed Ghani’s announcement and called on the Taliban to participate.
“We remain ready to support, facilitate, and participate in direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban,” he said in a statement. “There are no obstacles to talks. It is time for peace.”
Ghani’s announcement was also welcomed in neighboring Pakistan, which has long been accused of fostering links with the Taliban’s leadership and providing sanctuary to its fighters.
The overlapping government and Taliban ceasefires in June – the first such truce in the country since the 2001 U.S. invasion – spurred hopes that a new path was opening for possible peace talks in the country to the end the nearly 17-year-old war.
Ghani has made peace overtures to the Taliban before. In February he laid out plans for a possible settlement with the group, including a ceasefire, prisoner release, and recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political party.
Ghani did not mention any ceasefire with other militant groups including Islamic State – Khorasan Province, which has expanded since it first emerged in the region in 2014 and was not included in the June ceasefire.
With reporting from AFP