Ceasefire extension in Afghanistan supported by NATO and US forces, but not the Taliban

19 June 2018

On the 16 June, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani extended the Government’s ceasefire with the Taliban by a further 10 days and restated his offer to begin peace talks. While the US and NATO forces and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) declared their support for the extension (as did Russia and Iran), the Taliban refused to extend their own three-day ceasefire.

In a statement, the Taliban said it had called the ceasefire to enable ordinary Afghans to enjoy a peaceful Eid, "not in response to the ceasefire of the Kabul regime". "The ceasefire ends tonight and our operations will begin, inshallah (God willing). We have no intention to extend the ceasefire", Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s spokesman, told AFP.

On the 7 June, President Ghani announced a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban from the 12 to 20 June (during the Eid-ul-Fitr holiday). On the 9 June, the Taliban announced that it would do the same, but only for three days (from 15 to 18 June). The Afghan Government’s ceasefire excludes foreign extremist groups, notably the Islamic State, while the Taliban said its ceasefire would not extend to US and NATO forces.

The first formal nationwide ceasefire since the 2001 US invasion had been widely welcomed across the country as Afghans -- Taliban, security forces and civilians -- celebrated Eid. In a statement, UNAMA commended the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban for honouring the ceasefires. “UNAMA welcomes the announcement made today by President Ghani to extend the ceasefire with the Taliban beyond Eid-ul-Fitr. UNAMA has noted and been impressed by the outpouring support for the ceasefires and peace on the part of the Afghan people. UNAMA highly appreciates the decision of President Ghani responding to the overwhelming voice of the people of Afghanistan to extend the ceasefire. UNAMA calls upon the Taliban to respond positively to the desire and yearning of the Afghan people for an end to the conflict”.

“The Government’s extension of the ceasefire provides a clear opportunity for initiating a negotiated solution to the conflict,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA. “This opportunity cannot be missed”. “I have repeatedly stated that a negotiated settlement to the conflict is possible. Now I believe it can be imminent. I call for concrete steps to initiate direct talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban to put an end to the suffering of the Afghan people. The Afghan Government’s peace offer, which has been supported by the international community, enables every issue to be discussed. I call upon and encourage all countries concerned, including those in the region, to support this new opening for peace,” said Yamamoto.

“NATO-led Resolute Support and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan support the announcement, June 16, by H.E. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for an extension of the ceasefire with the Taliban and his offer to begin peace talks,” said a statement by NATO’s Resolute Support Mission. As US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, ‘We support President Ghani’s offer to extend the cease-fire and begin peace talks. As President Ghani emphasized in his statement to the Afghan people, peace talks by necessity would include a discussion of the role of international actors and forces. The United States is prepared to support, facilitate and participate in these discussions’”. The statement further added that the ceasefire is with the Taliban and does not include US counterterrorism efforts against Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, and other regional and international terrorist groups.

Earlier, on the 4 June more than 2,000 of Afghan's most senior religious scholars met in Kabul and denounced the years of conflict in Afghanistan. They issued a religious decree, or fatwa, outlawing suicide bombing and demanding that the Taliban restore peace in order to allow foreign troops to leave.

Two suicide attacks in the eastern province of Nangarhar carried out by the Islamic State marred the unprecedented ceasefire. On the 16 June, an attack on a gathering of Taliban, security forces and civilians in the province killed at least 36 people and wounded 65, while the next day, an attack on a crowd of Taliban fighters, local elders and civilians celebrating the Muslim holiday killed at least 18 people.

Further reading:

Kate Clark, The Eid Ceasefire: Allowing Afghans to imagine their country at peace, Afghanistan Analysts Network, 19 June

Mohib Iqbal, Ceasefire in Afghanistan: the first win for peace, The Interpreter, 19 June 2018