Mohammad Habibzada - VOA News
Hopes for direct peace talks are high in Afghanistan after the Taliban agreed to a unilateral cease-fire from the Afghan government.
A former high-ranking Taliban official said the temporary peace deal could be extended and efforts for direct peace talks could be made.
"It is even possible the talks to be held with Americans, Afghanistan [the Afghan government] and Taliban. It is much easier than shed blood in the battlefield, kill and spread hatred," Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan, told VOA.
"The people of Afghanistan should take advantage of the opportunity and talk to both sides to extend the cease-fire for three months, it is our and people's wish," he added.
In a televised address Thursday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced the unilateral weeklong cease-fire with the Taliban, from June 12-20.
On Saturday, Afghan Taliban released a statement agreeing to three days of a cease-fire, from June 15-18.
Although the conditions and the length of the cease-fire by both sides differ, the hopes are high for advancement toward a lasting peace in the country.
The Afghan High Peace Council, the body tasked with facilitating peace talks with Taliban insurgents, expressed optimism about the new developments.
"We are hopeful that this historical move ensues direct, Afghan-owned and -led peace talks," Sayed Ehsan Taheri, spokesperson for the council, told VOA.
The Afghan government, which took the lead and offered unconditional peace talks and a cease-fire with the Taliban, is hoping for more from the deal.
"We welcome the Taliban response and [are] looking forward to seeing it turned into opportunities for lasting peace in Afghanistan," Shah Hussain Murtazawi, a spokesperson for Afghan President Ghani, told VOA.
The Taliban, which announced their cease-fire after the Afghan government, would not say if it was a direct response to the Afghan government's action.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid in an interview with a local Afghan Radio station, Spogmai Radio, said this is not the first time the group called a pause in fighting.
"We have been stopping fighting during the Eid days, but we would not announce it publicly due to security reasons," Mujahid said.
The first-ever cease-fire by Taliban can be considered "exceptional," experts argue.
"Maybe Taliban stopped fighting during the Eid days in the past, however, this time around, the cease-fire is exceptional. We are very hopeful that warring parties use this period to extend the cease-fire," Khalil Roman, a Kabul-based political expert, told VOA.
In the 17 years the war has been going on, this is the first time Afghans have officially experienced an armistice between the Afghan government and Taliban.
Ahmad Jawad Rahimi, a California-based Afghan analyst, is giving the credit of the cease-fire to what he calls "a systemic change and a very strategic action by the Afghan leaders."
"This absolutely can lead to a longer term for peace and it also opens the doors for negotiations and talks between the Afghan and Taliban leaders. However, for this to work, we have to have national and international support," Rahimi said. "I am positive that Afghan-led peace process will lead to a very successful and peaceful future of the Afghan people, which we have been waiting for for decades."
Today in China, members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, including Russia, China, India and Pakistan, unanimously announced their support for the Afghan peace process.
The members of the organization vowed to support the Afghan government and work to bring peace and stability to the war-torn country.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg voiced his support for the Afghan cease-fire in a tweet Saturday.
In a written statement, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomed news of the joint cease-fire.
"The United Nations maintains that there can be no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan and welcomes these cease-fires as positive developments toward reducing the violence in Afghanistan and ending the war," said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA.
No Military Offense Operations
The Afghan government will stop all offensives against Taliban from June 12-20.
"We will not resort to any kind of firefight against Taliban from 27 of Ramadan until the fifth day of Eid. But our operations will normally be continued against Islamic State and al-Qaida," General Mohammad Radmanish, spokesperson for the Afghan defense minister, told VOA.
Taliban insurgents announced only three days of a cease-fire, promising not to launch attacks against the Afghan government during that time. Their statement, however, said foreign occupiers are excluded.
U.S. General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and NATO-led Resolute Support mission, said the coalition forces will also honor the cease-fire.
"We will adhere to the wishes of Afghanistan for the country to enjoy a peaceful end to the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, and support the search for an end to the conflict," Nicholson said.
The NATO-led mission also said the cease-fire would not include counterterrorism efforts against Islamic State-Khorasan, al-Qaida and other regional and other international terrorist groups.