A Fragile Ceasefire Lets Afghans Risk Travel for Eid

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KABUL, Afghanistan — On Saturday, the final day of a three-day national cease-fire for Eid al-Fitr, the three-day Muslim celebration marking the end of fasting after the holy month of Ramadan, the killings in Afghanistan kept coming.

A Kabul traffic policeman was murdered Saturday morning, a day after a bombing at a Kabul mosque during Friday prayers killed 12 civilians, including the imam. A roadside bomb in Kandahar killed five civilians Thursday, among them three children. An explosion outside a shop in Kunduz that day killed two civilians, including a child.

But in this country, those scattered attacks represented a respite of sorts from the much more frequent and deadlier ones that have dominated for most of the year. Afghans took advantage, braving perilous city streets and provincial roadways to visit family members for sumptuous Eid al-Fitr feasts and celebrations.

This was the fourth such cease-fire since 2018, but the first with American and NATO troops withdrawing after two decades of war, leaving Afghans facing an ever more uncertain and unsettled future. The cease-fire came at a time of high anxiety, with terrified Afghans continuing to flee the country and Western embassies warning their own citizens to leave, too.

On Saturday, the American embassy reminded American nationals that violence typically intensifies following the Eid holiday.

“The U.S. Embassy strongly suggests that U.S. citizens make plans to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible,” the embassy said in a statement that advised Americans to keep a low profile and avoid public places. “The U.S. government remains concerned that insurgents are intent on targeting foreigners via kidnapping schemes and attacks.”

Many Afghans normally refrain from driving outside major cities, where the Taliban control long stretches of roadways, imposing taxes and sometimes executing anyone associated with the American-backed government in Kabul. Thieves and highwaymen also ply the same roads.

But the cease-fire, announced by the Taliban and quickly agreed to by the government, promised to reduce the risk of violence, if not guarantee safety.

Two years ago, Mr. Damishyar said, a close friend was shot dead after his car was intercepted on the same highway. His friend’s death haunted him as he rode down the highway, Mr. Damishyar said, so he tried to focus on the breathtaking springtime mountain landscape. He survived the journey, but at a cost to his psyche.

“All the buildings, the streets, little roadside shops — all were all bombed out,” Mr. Damishayar said. “Destruction has overtaken the beauty of nature,” he said.

The cease-fire played out during a year in which the government and the Taliban were scheduled to engage in sustained peace talks in Doha, Qatar, aimed at agreeing on a road map for a future government and, ultimately, a lasting cease-fire.

The talks were part of an agreement signed in February 2020 between the Trump administration and the Taliban, in which the United States agreed to withdraw all troops by May 1. But the Taliban have accused the Biden administration of violating the agreement, although President Biden has since said all troops will be out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11.

At the same time, the United States has accused the Taliban of failing to honor pledges to reduce violence and to cut ties in Afghanistan with jihadist groups like Al Qaeda. The United States invaded Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, with the stated goal of insuring that Afghanistan is never again used as a base for international terrorist attacks.

The militants refused to attend an international meeting on Afghanistan in Turkey scheduled to begin in April. Talks between the Taliban and the government have slowed to a near standstill.

At least 122 civilians and 107 pro-government forces were killed in Afghanistan from May 7 to May 13, a period that included the first day of the case-fire, according to data compiled by The New York Times.

This year’s Eid cease-fire was markedly different than the one observed in 2018, when Taliban fighters hugged and kissed government soldiers and police in jubilant scenes repeated in many parts of the country.



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