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Peace amidst war?

Editorial |

The analogy may not be wholly appropriate; yet from Kashmir to Afghanistan, the Eid ceasefire has hit the reefs. For the relentlessly tormented country, the denouement must be still more tragic as it was the first taste of peace in 17 years.

The celebration, which was expected to be the most peaceful since 2001, has ended with the renewed threat of the Taliban, indeed a challenge to the establishment ~ “The ceasefire ends tonight [last Sunday] and our operations begin tomorrow, inshallah.”

The irony that is inherent in Afghanistan could scarcely have been more cruel. If at all there was a measure of peace during the festival, it now appears to have been the outcome of a grudging acceptance by the Islamist fundamentalists. Also in tatters is the recent truce that President Ashraf Ghani had clinched with the Taliban.

The militant group’s decision to take up arms once more comes despite the extension of the Afghan government’s own ceasefire and President Ghani’s request that the Taliban follow suit to prolong the first countrywide lull in hostilities since the US invasion in October 2001, specifically to “smoke out” Osama bin Laden, as George Bush had threatened.

Last Sunday, the Taliban ordered their fighters not to enter major cities after an ISIS attack killed 26 people in Narangahar province, near the city of Jalalabad. Another ISIS offensive in Jalalabad on Saturday had killed 17 people. It is the innocent civilian who has been caught in the vortex of this competitive militancy; the precise label ~ Taliban, ISIS, Al Qaida ~ is of lesser moment in the overall construct.

News that the ceasefire has been jettisoned chimes oddly with the romantic euphoria that Afghanistan has not witnessed for a while. Over three days, Afghans witnessed the kind of scenes few dreamed possible. Thousands of Taliban fighters were welcomed into Kabul, Kunduz, Ghazni and other cities.

Some posed for selfies with soldiers, some handed out red roses, and in Kabul some sought out a famous ice-cream parlour. It seemed to be a return to normal life, or nearly so. But only for a while. Before long the fragility of the country was exposed yet again.

The end of the ceasefire has even astonished many Taliban fighters. “I and thousands of Afghan Taliban definitely want the ceasefire extended,” was the immediate response of the 22-year-old Taliban soldier, Muhammadullah. After the sweet three days of peace, going back to bloodshed looks strange. How can you even compare peace with war?”

Indeed, peace in the time of war is an elusive quantity, verily a contradiction in terms that Afghanistan will have to countenance for some time yet, if developments over the past 17 years are any indication. The Taliban’s response to the government’s initiative has been far from enduring. The time for reconciliation is not yet. Far from a forward movement, Afghanistan festers on a powder-keg.