Rare Eid of ‘calm and peace’ as Taliban, government truce holds

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For 15 years, Ehsan Shafaq could not return to his neighbourhood in Afghanistan‘s southern Ghazni province.

Unending violence in Afghanistan since late 2001, when the Taliban was toppled in a US-led invasion, had not spared his home in the district of Khwaja Omari.

With his parents and sister, Shafaq fled to Iran in 2003 in search of a secure and better life.

His family still lives in Iran, but in 2011, Shafaq returned to Afghanistan to study law at Kabul University.

Although back in his home country, he was still unable to visit his relatives in Ghazni as fighting between the Taliban and government forces escalated.

“When I returned back to Kabul for my education, I saw that the situation was even worse than the day we left,” the 20-year-old told Al Jazeera. “But I still did not want to return back to Iran. I was determined to finish my degree in law in my own country.”

On Friday, the first day of the Eid holiday marking the end of Ramadan, Shafaq was finally able to travel to Khwaja Omari from Kabul to meet his remaining family members and reminisce about his childhood. 

The day was an “Eid of calm and peace”, he said, speaking by phone as the day’s festivities came to an end.

Unexpected ceasefire

In an unexpected move, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on June 5 announced an unconditional ceasefire with the Taliban until June 20, coinciding with the end of the holy fasting month.

On June 9, the Taliban announced that their fighters would stop attacking Afghan security forces for the first three days of Eid.

The overlapping ceasefire fostered a rare assurance of peace in the war-torn country.

“This is a dream I think, this peace has been the dream of every Afghan in this country, luckily I am alive to witness it,” said Shafaq.

“I am sure I will be safe because I know the Taliban will not attack me. We are civilians and want nothing but peaceful and happy life in our country.”

Heavy fighting between the Taliban and security forces had gripped the provinces of Ghazni, Farah and Faryab in recent weeks.

In May, Farah, one of the largest cities of southwestern Afghanistan in terms of population, was on the verge of falling to the Taliban.

Had it fallen, it would have become the second city after Kunduz to succumb to the armed group’s rule since the war began.

‘Stay safe’

Another resident of Kabul, 27-year-old Siyaam Nayab, decided to travel by road to the northeastern Panjshir province after the Taliban’s ceasefire announcement.

Although he is confident that the Taliban will not carry out any attacks, he believes Afghanistan is facing threats from other armed groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), which has killed hundreds in recent years.

“The ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban does not mean we won’t be targeted by other armed groups. We are still living under threat,” Nayab told Al Jazeera.

Several Afghans took to social media to post images of crowded squares, with families out in the streets to celebrate Eid.

Commentators also shared their optimism over the ceasefire.

Mosharraf Zaidi, former adviser to Pakistan’s foreign ministry, tweeted: “Good to see real unity and happiness across Afghanistan. Long may peace last in that beautiful, amazing country.”

According to a recent report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), 229 districts were under Afghan government control – which is about 56.3 percent of total Afghan districts, as of January 31, 2018.

There were 59 districts, or approximately 14.5 percent, under rebel control.

The remaining 119 districts, about 29.2 percent, are contested – controlled by neither the Afghan government nor the rebellion.

“I want to take this ceasefire as a positive step that is taken towards building peace in Afghanistan, however, we should still stay safe,” said Nayab. 

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