Taliban And Afghan Forces Declare Eid Holiday Ceasefire As Violence Soars

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The Taliban and Afghan government Monday declared a three-day ceasefire for this week's Eid al-Fitr holiday, following a sharp spike in violence as Washington pursues a withdrawal of its remaining troops from Afghanistan.

Violence has soared since May 1 -- the deadline missed by the United States to withdraw the last of its troops -- and while the Taliban have avoided engaging American forces, attacks against government and civilian targets have not stopped.

In the latest, the interior ministry said Monday that at least 11 people were killed by a bomb that struck a bus overnight in southeastern Zabul province.

The attack on a girls' school in Kabul was the deadliest in more than a year The attack on a girls' school in Kabul was the deadliest in more than a year  AFP / ZAKERIA HASHIMI

That followed Saturday's carnage outside a school in the capital Kabul when a series of bombs killed at least 50 people and wounded more than 100 -- most of them young girls.

Early Monday, the Taliban instructed their fighters "to halt all offensive operations against the enemy countrywide from the first till the third day of Eid".

That was matched later in the day by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who went further by urging the Taliban to announce a permanent truce to end the bloody war.

A wounded man is brought to hospital following the bomb attack. Afghan officials including President Ashraf Ghani blamed the Taliban although the insurgents denied responsibility A wounded man is brought to hospital following the bomb attack. Afghan officials including President Ashraf Ghani blamed the Taliban although the insurgents denied responsibility  AFP / ZAKERIA HASHIMI

Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, and the holiday begins according to the sighting of the new moon.

A series of blasts outside a school during a peak holiday shopping period killed more than 50 people, mostly girl students, in west Kabul A series of blasts outside a school during a peak holiday shopping period killed more than 50 people, mostly girl students, in west Kabul  AFP / Wakil KOHSAR

The United States welcomed the move -- which has taken place for previous Islamic holidays -- and called on the Taliban to go further.

"We urge the Taliban to extend the ceasefire and order a significant reduction of violence," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington.

"It's in no one's interest -- we know this -- for Afghanistan to once again devolve into civil war," Price said.

Onlookers stand next to a pile of backpacks and books of victims following multiple blasts outside a girls' school in Dasht-e-Barchi on the outskirts of Kabul Onlookers stand next to a pile of backpacks and books of victims following multiple blasts outside a girls' school in Dasht-e-Barchi on the outskirts of Kabul  AFP / WAKIL KOHSAR

The ceasefire announcements came as Pakistan's military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited Kabul and met top officials including Ghani, according to a statement. He was accompanied by Pakistan's spy chief.

Pakistan would always support an "Afghan-led, Afghan-owned" peace process, Bajwa said at his meeting with Ghani.

Pakistan is a key regional player in Afghanistan's peace process, and Afghan officials have often accused Islamabad of arming and sheltering the Taliban.

On Saturday, a series of bombs detonated outside a girls' school in Dasht-e-Barchi, a suburb of Kabul largely populated by the Shiite Hazara community, which is often targeted by extremist Sunni Islamist militants.

A wounded man is brought to hospital following the bomb attack. Afghan officials including President Ashraf Ghani blamed the Taliban although the insurgents denied responsibility A wounded man is brought to hospital following the bomb attack. Afghan officials including President Ashraf Ghani blamed the Taliban although the insurgents denied responsibility  AFP / ZAKERIA HASHIMI

It was the deadliest attack in more than a year and came as residents were shopping ahead of the Eid holiday.

On Sunday, on a desolate hilltop cemetery, bodies in small wooden coffins were lowered into graves, one by one, by mourners still in shock.

"I rushed to the scene and found myself in the middle of bodies, their hands and heads cut off and bones smashed," said Mohammad Taqi, whose two daughters were students at the school but escaped the attack.

"All of them were girls. Their bodies piled on top of each other."

Kabul resident Rashed Hashimi said the Taliban should stop fighting as US forces were leaving.

"The Taliban were saying they were fighting the foreigners, but now the foreigners are leaving," he said. "So, why are they fighting Afghans?"

Political analyst Fawad Kochi said the ceasefire was a way for the Taliban leadership to give its forces a brief respite from fighting that has intensified since the US troop withdrawal formally commenced on May 1.

"The government will try all possible channels to extend the ceasefire but the Taliban will go back to the battlefield right after Eid," Kochi said.

"The Taliban know that a prolonged ceasefire will split them and kill their momentum. They will never want that."

The Taliban insist they have not carried out attacks in Kabul since February last year when they signed the deal with Washington that paved the way for peace talks and withdrawal of the remaining US troops.

But they have clashed daily with Afghan forces in the rugged countryside.

The United States was supposed to have pulled all forces out by May 1, but Washington pushed back the date to September 11 -- a move that angered the insurgents.

"If America again fails to live up to its commitments, then the world must bear witness and hold America accountable for all the consequences," he warned.

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