The Ashraf Ghani administration on Monday released some 100 Taliban prisoners from a military prison as part of the government’s response to a surprise ceasefire offered by the militants to mark the Eid al-Fitr festival.
“The government of Afghanistan has today released 100 Taliban prisoners from Bagram prison,” National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal told AFP.
The government plans to free up to 2,000 Taliban inmates as a “goodwill gesture” in response to the Sunday´s ceasefire offer, boosting efforts to launch peace talks.
The Taliban had announced a three-day ceasefire with the Afghan government on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr after months of fighting.
President Ashraf Ghani swiftly welcomed the offer and ordered his forces to also comply, while the US envoy to Afghanistan hailed the deal as a “momentous opportunity.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has said in a statement posted on social media that the group’s “leadership instructs all the mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate to take special measures for the security of the countrymen, and conduct no offensive operation against the enemy anywhere.”
The statement, which announced a halt to hostilities “during the three days of Eid,” instructed Taliban fighters to refrain from entering government areas and also said that Kabul forces were not allowed to enter territories under their control.
Pakistan also welcomed the group’s announcement for the three-day ceasefire.
“Pakistan welcomes announcements by the Taliban and the Afghanistan Government about ceasefire on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr. While extending Eid greetings to our Afghan brethren, we pray for a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan,” the Foreign Office said in a tweet.
Since the US invasion in 2001 there has only been one other pause in the fighting — a surprise three-day ceasefire between the Taliban and Kabul marking the religious festival of Eid in 2018.
That ceasefire call was given by Ghani, which the insurgents had accepted.
During the brief lull in fighting at that time, Afghans responded joyfully, with Taliban fighters, security forces and civilians hugging, sharing ice creams and posing for selfies in previously unimaginable scenes.
Ghani was quick to accept the Taliban ceasefire offer Saturday.
“I welcome the ceasefire announcement by the Taliban,” he said on Twitter.
“As commander-in-chief I have instructed ANDSF (Afghan National Defence Security Force) to comply with the three-day truce and to defend only if attacked.”
The announcement comes just days after the Taliban’s leader Haibatullah Akhundzada urged Washington “not to waste” the opportunity offered by the deal the militants signed with the United States in February that set the stage for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.
“The Islamic Emirate is committed to the agreement… and urges the other side to honour its own commitments and not allow this critical opportunity to go to waste,” Akhundzada said in a statement, using the Taliban’s name for Afghanistan.
The signing of the deal between the United States and Taliban was preceded by a so-called “reduction in violence” but not an official ceasefire.
US Special Representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who brokered the deal, said on Twitter Saturday that the United States welcomed “the Taliban’s decision to observe a ceasefire during Eid, as well as the Afghan government announcement reciprocating and announcing its own ceasefire.”
He urged the Taliban to continue to abide by the agreement, calling the halt in violence “a momentous opportunity that should not be missed” while pledging that the United States would “do its part to help.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed the ceasefire, urging all parties to “seize this opportunity for peace, for the benefit of all Afghans.”