Afghans offered prayers marking the Muslim festival of Id al-Adha on Friday as a three-day ceasefire between Taliban and government forces began, with many hoping the truce will lead to peace talks.
A car bomb that killed at least 17 people in the country’s east just hours before the ceasefire started underlined the scale of the challenge that lies ahead, although the Taliban denied any involvement.
The halt in fighting is slated to last for the duration of Id and is only the third official truce in nearly 19 years of war.
As the ceasefire commenced, hundreds of worshippers went to mosques across the capital where they were patted down by armed guards before going inside.
Beginning peace talks
President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban have both signalled that peace talks could begin straight after Id, and there are widespread calls for the warring parties to extend the ceasefire.
Under a deal signed by the Taliban and the U.S. in February, “intra-Afghan” talks were slated to start in March, but were delayed amid political infighting in Kabul and as a contentious prisoner exchange dragged on. That swap will see Kabul free 5,000 Taliban fighters, while the insurgents claimed late on Thursday they had fulfilled their pledge of freeing 1,000 government forces. In a speech, Mr. Ghani said another 500 prisoners will be released in a bid to “accelerate the peace talks.”
However, the 500 inmates are not on the original list of 5,000. Authorities have released 4,600 of those prisoners but are hesitating over the final 400, deeming them too dangerous.