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    UN welcomes three-day ceasefire announcement by Afghan government and Taliban during Eid al-Fitr

    Global development 25 May 2020 291

    The UN Secretary-General has welcomed the announcement by the Afghan Government and the Taliban of a ceasefire to mark the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting for Muslims around the world.

    Hours before the three-day festival of Eid al-Fitr was due to begin, Taliban militants made the unexpected declaration that they would attack only if their positions were hit, leading President Ashraf Ghani to welcome the move shortly afterwards, and release a statement saying security and defence forces would comply.

    It marks just the second time during the nearly 20-year period since Taliban extremists were removed from power, following the US-led invasion of the country, that a brief ceasefire has been agreed. There was widespread rejoicing on the first occasion – again to mark the end of Ramadan – in 2018, as Taliban fighters mingled in the capital and elsewhere, some hugging and posting for selfies with security forces.

    But this time, Taliban fighters have been ordered not to enter government-controlled territory.

    The truce comes after an escalation in attacks in recent weeks by the Taliban against the backdrop of stalled peace efforts, and violence from other extremist elements, including ISIL.

    In an address to the nation following Eid prayers on Sunday, President Ghani announced a further “step forward”, to accelerate the release of Taliban prisoners; something which has been a stumbling block in efforts to finally bring the Taliban and government into direct talks, following a US-Taliban deal signed in February.