The have rejected the Afghan government’s offer of peace talks, another blow to hopes that an unprecedented Eid ceasefire could be a step towards more lasting peace.
Fighting has resumed with full intensity around the country after a brief halt during June. The latest casualties are three children from eastern Ghazni province who were killed by roadside mines at the weekend.
With two rounds of high-stakes elections due within the next year, political tensions are adding to concerns about rising insecurity. Parliamentary elections are due to take place in October. Next spring there will be a presidential vote, with the current leader, Ashraf Ghani, expected to run for re-election.
Power brokers and the many ethnic strongmen who carved out a constituency over decades of war are now manoeuvring to bolster their position before the polls. One of the biggest question marks hangs over the exiled vice-president, Abdul Rashid Dostum. He fled to Turkey last year after allegations he ordered the torture and sexual assault of a political opponent.
Selfies with the Taliban: Afghan women buoyed by ceasefire snaps | Ruchi Kumar
An ethnic Uzbek, Dostum still holds huge sway among his community in Afghanistan, and there are regular rumours he will return. His supporters took to the streets this week in northern Faryab province, for sometimes over the government’s arrest of a prominent militia commander who is one of Dostum’s allies.
“Until the last drop of our blood we will try and fight to get justice, which is the releasing of our commander and the returning of our general,” said one supporter who had travelled from an outlying district.
This year has been a particularly bloody one in , especially in the cities where one of the worst waves of violence in decades killed hundreds. The dead included nine journalists, killed along with at least seven other people by a suicide bomber posing as one of the press corps.
There was a respite at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when Ghani offered the Taliban a unilateral ceasefire as a precursor to possible talks. For three days over Eid the militant group .
The rare days without conflict sparked celebrations and a sense of possibility, alongside a sense of hope that many Afghans had all but abandoned. Taliban soldiers wandered into towns they had attacked for years, where they took grinning selfies with the army and officials who are normally their targets.
“I am 24, and in these years the only thing that I can remember is war and war and war, but during Eid days I saw some moments of joy that I did not see in my entire life,” said Firooz Osmani, a resident of Gozara district in western Herat province. “I cried when I saw Taliban and government officials are hugging and taking selfies, I could not stop my tears. I was really disappointed when I understand that the truce is over.”
Pro-government Afghans who had felt confined to those cities are returning to home villages after long absences. But Taliban commanders were reportedly furious about the impromptu socialising, and worried that the success of the ceasefire could undermine morale.
“After the ceasefire our emir [leader] in the province was very upset,” one Taliban fighter in western Afghanistan said, asking not to be named due to sensitive issues of internal discipline. “He told us that we did wrong to take photographs with people and soldiers, and sent mujahideen [fighters] that he identified in photos to the frontline.”
Although the government stuck to its own ceasefire for 18 days, the Taliban went back to fighting after three days. There were also attacks by the regional branch of , which never agreed to put down their weapons.
Among the areas where officials now say they feel under siege is eastern Ghazni province. “The province is facing very bad days. If the central government do not send extra forces for help, we will witness a catastrophe in the entire province,” said Nasir Ahmad Faghiri, a member of the provincial council in Ghazni.
Last weekend a struck at the heart of Afghanistan’s tiny Sikh community, killing the only non-Muslim candidate running for parliament, and 18 other people.