Taliban announce brief cease-fire, as Afghan peace talks appear imminent

By Mujib Mashal

The Taliban said Tuesday that they would observe a three-day cease-fire this week during the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr, as Afghanistan’s president suggested the long-delayed talks between his government and the insurgents over ending the war could start in a week.

The developments promise to inject new optimism into a peace process that was floundering with disagreements over a prisoner swap and increased insurgent attacks, even as the United States continues to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

In a statement, the Taliban said they had ordered the group’s fighters “not to carry out any kind of attacks against the enemy” during the three days and nights of the Muslim festival and to “retaliate strongly” only if attacked.

The Taliban announcement came soon after the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, said a prisoner swap that had faced opposition from his government would be completed and that direct negotiations with the Taliban would start in a week.

Under a deal signed between the United States and the Taliban in February, which initiated the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops, direct peace negotiations between the Afghan sides were conditioned on swapping 5,000 Taliban prisoners with 1,000 Afghan security forces held by the insurgents.

The Afghan government, left out of those talks, had vehemently opposed any agreement made on its behalf for such a measure. But with President Donald Trump’s administration increasing pressure and the drawdown of U.S. forces, the Afghan government found little choice but to cooperate with the prisoner swap.

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