Taliban refuse to extend Afghan truce amid holiday ceasefire
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A suicide bombing in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Sunday killed at least 10 people during a holiday ceasefire which was further marred after the Taliban said it would not extend the truce ending at midnight.
The attacker detonated his explosives outside the governor’s office in Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province, as Taliban militants, Afghan security officials and civilians were celebrating a ceasefire marking the Eid ul-Fitr holiday.
No group has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack. A previous attack on Saturday, also in Jalalabad targeting a mixed gathering of Taliban militants, Afghan troops and civilians, was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.
The latest attack came as the Taliban ruled out an extension of a three-day ceasefire that is set to expire at midnight local time on Sunday.
The decision followed calls by the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the country’s High Peace Council (HPC) for the Taliban to extend the ceasefire, which has seen unprecedented scenes of reconciliation and jubilation between the Islamist militants and ordinary Afghans across the country.
The HPC call came a day after Ghani announced a unilateral, nine-day extension of a ceasefire agreement that was scheduled to last until Sunday, marking the end of the Eid ul-Fitr holiday.
Taliban blasts ‘fabricated pictures’
The attempts to extend the Taliban truce followed a period of relative calm in Afghanistan amid unprecedented scenes of reconciliation that saw Taliban militants embracing Afghan security troops and taking selfies with civilians across the country.
But with Afghan civilians as well as Taliban members publicly declaring their weariness over a war that has dragged on for 17 years, there were signs of unease over the latest displays of reconciliation among Taliban leaders.
A tweet on Sunday by Al Emarah, the media unit of the Afghan Taliban, blasted the recent “fabricated pictures” as “fake” news “circulated by local and international media.” The group instructed its members to “avoid taking such pictures”.
#BREAKINGعبد الله الوزير (@Alvizier) June 17, 2018
A number of fabricated pictures have been circulated by local and international media during Eid cease-fire as an attempt to document and export a fake image that has nothing to do with reality!
Mujahideen have been already instructed to avoid taking such pictures.
The attempt to stop the rash of selfies surfacing on social media sites came hours after Al Emarah released a statement regarding Saturday’s attack in the eastern province of Nangahar, which killed 36 people, according to local officials.
“We’re tired of fighting; they’re tired of fight. It would be nice to stop fighting”- young Talib fighter (far right) from Baghlan marching with his flag in Kabul during Eid ceasefire. “Kabul is a beautiful city and people are so kind,” he obliged everyone’s request for a selfie. pic.twitter.com/Xs2U0s6RGmRuchi Kumar (@RuchiKumar) June 17, 2018
The attack occurred when a suicide bomber targeted a gathering of Taliban fighters and Nangahar officials who were celebrating the three-day truce. No one immediately claimed the attack, but it was likely carried out by the Afghanistan branch of Islamic State (IS) group, which was not included in the ceasefire and has clashed with the Taliban in the past.
The Al Emarah statement by a group spokesman warned Taliban members to “remain in their trenches and areas of control and to not venture into enemy controlled areas or cities even briefly. Such actions are strictly prohibited.”
International community welcomes truce
The ceasefire -- the latest in several attempts to negotiate an end to the conflict -- has been welcomed by the international community.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday called on the Taliban to extend the ceasefire, noting that, “the only solution to the conflict in Afghanistan is through an inclusive political process.”
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, also welcomed the truce between the Taliban and Ghani’s administration. “The European Union commends both parties for honouring their commitments,” said a statement released Saturday. “President Ghani’s latest decision to offer an extension of the ceasefire is another courageous step to make way for peace negotiations and we call on the Taliban to reciprocate. The Afghan people deserve a lasting peace.”
However US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said peace talks would have to include a discussion on the role of "international actors and forces".
"The US stands ready to work with parties to reach a peace agreement and political settlement that brings a permanent end to this war," he said.