Afghanistan waits for Taliban response to truce offer

Afghanistan was waiting Monday for a Taliban response to President Ashraf Ghani’s suggestion of a three-month ceasefire, an offer welcomed by the United States and NATO after 17 years of war.

Ghani unveiled the government’s latest gambit during an Independence Day address late Sunday, saying security forces would observe the truce beginning this week — but only if the Taliban reciprocated.

The move followed an extraordinarily violent week in Afghanistan that saw that Taliban storm the provincial capital of Ghazni — just a two hour drive from Kabul — and press the fight against security forces across the country, resulting in hundreds of deaths.

The president said his office had cleared “all obstacles” to peace with the announcement following consultations with religious scholars, political parties and civil society groups.

The proposal was warmly greeted by both NATO and the US, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling on the Taliban to participate.

The Taliban did not immediately respond to Ghani’s proposal but vowed to release hundreds of “enemy prisoners” to mark the Islamic Eid al-Adha holiday that starts this week.

Analysts said the government’s move belied the desperation after recent heavy bloodshed.

“After Ghazni City and everything else, this looks really desperate,” tweeted Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

If the militants accede to the ceasefire, it would be just the second nation-wide truce since the US-led invasion in 2001 that toppled the Taliban regime.

The first, in June, saw thousands of insurgents pour into cities across Afghanistan, eating ice cream and posing for selfies with security forces to celebrate.

The brief respite observed by both sides spurred hopes that a new path was opening for possible peace talks in the country to the end the nearly 17- year-old war.

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