Saturday, November 27News That Matters

Afghan ceasefire ends amid calls for fresh talks with Taliban

Clashes between Taliban fighters and government forces resume in the Helmand province.

Afghanistan government’s three-day ceasefire with the Taliban marked by violent attacks – some claimed by the ISIL (ISIS) armed group – ended on Sunday amid calls for renewed peace talks.

Fighting resumed on Sunday on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the capital of the restive southern province of Helmand, an Afghan military spokesman and a local official said.

“The fighting started early today and is still ongoing,” Attaullah Afghan, head of the Helmand provincial council, told the AFP news agency.

He said Taliban fighters attacked security checkpoints on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah and other districts.

An Afghan army spokesman in the south confirmed fighting had resumed.

The Taliban, which has been waging an armed rebellion since it was removed from power in a US-led military invasion in 2001, blamed the Western-backed Kabul administration for the resumption of fighting.

“They (Afghan forces) started the operation … do not put the blame on us,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.

The armed group has continued to attack Afghan forces even after it signed a peace agreement with the US in February 2020. It calls Kabul a “puppet regime” of the West.

Brief talks

Just a day earlier, the negotiating teams of the government and the armed group met briefly in Qatar, Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said.

They renewed their commitment on Saturday to find a peaceful end to the war and called for an early start to talks that have been stalled, he said.

Kabul and Taliban have been holding talks in the Qatari capital Doha since last September as part of the US push to arrive at lasting peace in the war-torn country.

The US has been pressing for accelerated talks between Afghan stakeholders as it withdraws the last of its 2,500-3,500 soldiers and NATO its remaining 7,000 allied forces.

Even as the Taliban and government signed on to the ceasefire, which was declared to mark the Islamic holiday of Eid-al-Fitr, violence continued unabated in Afghanistan.

A bombing on Friday in a mosque north of the capital killed 12 worshippers, including the prayer leader. Another 15 people were wounded.

The Taliban denied it was behind the attack which has been claimed by ISIL, according to the SITE Intelligence Group that monitors armed groups. Al Jazeera could not independently verify the ISIL claims reported by SITE.

In the dark

ISIL also claimed it blew up several electrical grid stations over the weekend. That left the capital Kabul in the dark for much of the three-day holiday that followed the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

In posts on its affiliated websites, ISIL claimed additional attacks over the last two weeks that destroyed 13 electrical grid stations in several provinces. The stations bring imported power from the Central Asian countries of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The attacks have left nine provinces including Kabul with disrupted power supplies, said Sanger Niazai, a government spokesman.

There was also concern that local armed leaders, demanding protection money from the government to safeguard stations in areas they control, may have been behind some of the destruction.

At least one local armed leader was arrested last year after demanding protection money.

The seemingly unstoppable violence in Afghanistan has residents and regional countries fearful the final withdrawal of US and NATO soldiers could lead to further chaos.

US President Joe Biden last month announced the pullout of US soldiers from Afghanistan by September 11 at the latest.

On Saturday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed concern over the rapid withdrawal of US and NATO forces in a phone call with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Wang called the withdrawal hasty and warned it would “severely” impact the Afghan peace process and negatively affect regional stability. He called on the United Nations to play a greater role.