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Afghans Celebrate Partial Truce In Frontline Provinces

FILE: Afghan celebrate a three-day cease-fire in June 2018.
FILE: Afghan celebrate a three-day cease-fire in June 2018.

TARIN KOT/ LASHKAR GAH/FARAH/JALALABAD/KABUL, Afghanistan – Sarah, a 60-year-old widow, says she hates war because it snatched away everything dear to her.

“My brother was also killed in the war. There is nothing good about war. It took away our peace of mind,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Now I cannot sleep at night or during the daytime.”

On February 24, Sarah joined hundreds of residents of Tarin Kot in celebrating the weeklong partial truce that has seen a notable reduction in violence across Afghanistan. The dusty town serves as the provincial capital of the southern province of Uruzgan, which is practically besieged by the Taliban, who control large swathes of the province and frequently clash with Afghan security forces.

Afghans in frontline provinces such as Uruzgan now demand a lasting cease-fire. They are hoping their lives, defined by the misery and anguish caused by fighting, will change for the better if all warring sides agree on turning the partial truce into a lasting cease-fire.

Like Sarah, 50-year-old Bibi, another widow in Uruzgan, goes by one name only. She too participated in the pro-peace demonstration in Tarin Kot, hoping that a return to peace will somehow ease raising her eight children.

“I want peace because my son and nephew were recently killed during fighting,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan. “I do not want to see more young people -- be they government soldiers or the Taliban – killed in this war.”

Gul Agha, a 50-year-old resident of Tarin Kot, hopes the Taliban, the Afghan government, and other factions supporting the current political system in the country will be able turn the weeklong reduction in violence into a lasting cease-fire once they begin talking soon after the Taliban and the United States sign an initial agreement on February 29.

“We hope that they can cease fighting and are able to resolve all their differences through talks,” he said of his hopes for the intra-Afghan talks.

In Lashkar Gah, the capital of southern Helmand Province, hundreds celebrated the partial truce on February 24 after sensing the armistice has largely held since it came into effect early on February 22. “There is nothing uglier than war in this world. And nothing is better than peace,” one speaker told the gathering.

In the nearby district of Nawa, where the Taliban and government forces clash frequently, thousands called on the Taliban to extend the armistice and declare a permanent cease-fire after joining talks with the government.

“Every Afghan involved in this war is our brother and relative irrespective of what side they are fighting for,” said Fazal Bari Fayyaz, the district governor of Nawa. “Peace is in everyone’s interest. Even the wildlife in our homeland will benefit from it.”

Helmand is Afghanistan’s largest province where insurgents control most of the countryside. The region has historically provided many Taliban recruits, and its status as the world’s largest producer of illicit opium and heroin has filled their war chest. Helmand’s long porous border with Pakistan and proximity to Iran make it strategically significant.

In the neighboring province of Farah too, the partial truce was celebrated with music and dancing.

“People are sick of war; they want lasting peace,” Sharafuddin, a resident of the provincial capital, also called Farah, told Radio Free Afghanistan. “If the war had any benefit, Afghanistan would have turned into a developed country during the past 40 years,” said Nazir Ahmad, another Farah resident.

Like Helmand, Farah is a frequent scene of Taliban ambushes and government and U.S. airstrikes. The provincial capital in particular was battered when it was briefly overrun by Taliban fighters in May 2018.

Residents of the eastern province of Nangarhar have endured some of the most horrific violence in Afghanistan in recent years. After its emergence in early 2015, the ultra-radical Islamic State militants captured many Nangahar districts bordering Pakistan. They committed unprecedented atrocities against civilians and engaged in large-scale fighting against the government, NATO, and Taliban forces until late last year.

Noorullah Noorani, a Nangarhar resident, considers the truce a good opportunity for Afghans to showcase their thirst for peace to the world. “We need to tell the world that Afghanistan is the home of negotiations and peace is in our best interest,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan.

In the capital, Kabul, Hameedullah Ashna is elated by the truce. His government job has prevented him from meeting family in the nearby province of Maidan Wardak. His village in Wardak’s Chak district is under Taliban control. Ashna avoided visiting because he feared being targeted by the insurgents, who frequently attacked government workers and supporters.

“My sister called me from our village to urge me to visit them during the truce,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan.

The Taliban used to conduct up to 80 attacks every day, but their attacks have reduced to less than 10 per day during the first three days of the truce, according to Afghan journalists tracking violence in their country.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on reporting by Sharifullah Sharafat, Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent in Uruzgan. Mohammad Ilyas Dayee, Hafeez Noorzad, Shar Gul Amirzai and Najia Safi contributed reporting from Helmand, Farah, Nangarhar and Kabul, respectively.