US envoy hails Afghan-Taliban ceasefire as ‘momentous opportunity’

US negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad on Saturday welcomed the surprise announcement of a three-day ceasefire between Afghan and Taliban forces during the Eid al-Fitr holiday, hailing it as “a momentous opportunity that should not be missed.”

“The US will do its part to help,” the envoy, who brokered a withdrawal deal between the Taliban and US forces that was announced earlier this year, added in a tweet.

“Other positive steps should immediately follow: the release of remaining prisoners as specified in the US-Taliban agreement by both sides, no returning to high levels of violence, and an agreement on a new date for the start of intra-Afghan negotiations,” he continued.

The US-Taliban accord, signed in Qatar on February 29, allows the US to begin withdrawing troops from its longest war in return for various security guarantees.

It is also designed to pave the way for peace talks between the insurgents and Kabul, including trust-building initiatives such as prisoner swaps.

Ceasefires are seen as another such measure.

But with US President Donald Trump openly signaling his desire to leave regardless, and the coronavirus pandemic complicating matters, violence has surged again in the war-weary country in recent weeks.

The ceasefire which begins Sunday was first announced by the Taliban, then welcomed by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

It is only the second ceasefire since the US invasion in 2001, though the Taliban did agree to a brief “reduction in violence” after the accord with the US was signed on February 29. 

The previous ceasefire, also held during Eid in 2018, was marked by extraordinary scenes as Taliban fighters posed for selfies and shared ice cream with fellow Afghans.