Context & Culture

The Eid Ceasefire: What did (some of the) people think?


Taleban arriving in West Kabul on the first day of the Eid ceasefire. Not everyone was so delighted. Such scenes sparked a variety of emotions in onlookers,from hope to bewilderment and joy to fear. (Photo Andrew Quilty 16 June 2018)

Taleban arriving in West Kabul on the first day of the Eid ceasefire. Not everyone was so delighted. Such scenes sparked a variety of emotions in onlookers,from hope to bewilderment and joy to fear. (Photo Andrew Quilty 16 June 2018)

Coverage of the Eid ceasefire mainly focussed on the most spectacular consequence, the mass fraternisation between combatants. AAN researchers wanted to try to understand what civilians thought about the truce and what sort of Eid holiday they had enjoyed – or not. We interviewed ten Afghans, four women and six men, to try to find out. We heard from those who had visited their home villages for the first time in years or who were still too frightened to travel, and those who, witnessing  the scenes of Taleban in cities and ANSF and Taleban hugging each other were, variously, bewildered, frightened, joyful, hopeful and sceptical. The interviews were carried out by Ali Mohammad Sabawoon, Ehsan Qaane, Ali Yawar Adili and Rohullah Sorush and edited by Kate Clark.

AAN published a dispatch, “The Eid Ceasefire: Allowing Afghans to imagine their country at peace” on 19 June looking at what happened and the possible consequences for a peace process.

All the interviews were carried out between 19 and 21 June, so just after the mutual ceasefire ended (on 20 June) and while the government’s unilateral ceasefire was maintained. 

Leya Jawad, women’s rights activist, lives in Kabul, originally from Logar

Leya Jawad chairs a national civil society organisation and is both a defender of and advocate for female victims of war. Because of her work, she received warning letters and calls from the Taleban in 2016. She believes these warnings were sent by members of the Taleban living in her home village in Logar.

1 How was this Eid different for you? Why?

The ceasefire was an opportunity for me. I used it to go to my village, together with my husband. I hadn’t been there for two years. I hadn’t trusted the Taleban to the truce, but then, on the first day of the ceasefire and of Eid, my relatives travelled to our village with no trouble from the Taleban. I was also watching TV news showing the Taleban and Afghan National Security Forces [ANSF] praying and celebrating the first day of Eid together. So I decided to travel to my village to see my relatives. My husband and I go there for one day, travelling in our own car. What happened during the ceasefire was unexpected.

Even so, I was afraid going to my village. Whenever I went out, I covered my face with my scarf, remembering those who had sent the threatening letters. Seeing armed men carrying their white flag in my village and on my way back to Kabul only increased my fear. On my way back to Kabul, two things in particular scared me. First, I heard about the explosion during the gathering of ANSF and Taleban militants in Nangrahar. I thought the same thing could happen at any moment during the gatherings I was seeing on my way back to Kabul. Second, I thought if clashes started, it wouldn’t be easy to control all those armed men.

During my stay in the village, I saw a relative of my husband, whose son, Sayed Mujahed, had been assassinated by the Taleban ten days previously, giving Taleban food, water and tea. When I criticised him, he said that if this brought peace, he would forgive the Taleban what they had done to his son. He had been an ALP commander in the village. That day and then two days after the end of the ceasefire, I asked him not to trust the Taleban because neither the war or the peace is in the hands of the armed men fighting on the frontline.

Two days after the end of the ceasefire, the Taleban killed this relative’s second son, Sayed Ismael. He had been 21 years old and had just joined the ALP to replace his dead brother.

Azizullah Wardak, journalist from Wardak province based in Kabul

1) How was Eid different for you? Why?

It wasn’t so different for me, personally, as I’ve been able to travel to my village for previous Eids, as well as for other occasions. I always thought it was a little risky going to these areas before the ceasefire, but this time I went feeling no risk.

Speaking about the nation, it was a totally different Eid, something nobody could have anticipated. On the third day of the holidays, I went along with my family members and brothers and their family members to Sayedabad district, to our village. I even met Taleban commanders there. I talked to them. A Taleban commander told me he had received a message on WhatsApp from his superiors that the ceasefire might be extended to fifteen more days without announcing it officially – although this didn’t happen.

We were in the village until late afternoon. When we were on our way back home, the ceasefire ended. It was eight o’clock when we were passing a police post. All of a sudden, we got a puncture. I was fixing the tyre when the Taleban attacked the post. I escaped the area, driving on that punctured tire, while my children were crying out of fear.

2) Do you remember any exact feelings you experienced when you first heard about the ceasefire? Did it make you sad, happy, pensive or confused?

Like other people throughout the country I was happy, but also kind of sceptical. In the last seventeen years, we have experienced this kind of announcement, but it was never implemented in practice and there was never a good result.

3) Did this ceasefire meet your expectations? Please explain how and why.

I was expecting the ceasefire would just be for three days and the fire would start burning again after three days – this has happened according to my expectations. However, the consequences of the ceasefire was extremely different and more than I had anticipated.

At first, when I saw the white flag of the Taleban in the hands of one man in the Kot-e Sangi area of the city, I thought how stupid the man was. When I reached the Company neighbourhood [on the outskirts of Kabul on the road heading out towards Wardak], I saw the Taleban riding on motorbikes, their flags in their hands. I saw police and civilians waving both the national and Taleban flag, even on police vehicles. I started putting together a report for my radio programme. I talked to the Taleban, police and civilians, but when I was trying to express my feelings on the radio, I couldn’t speak because I was weeping. I tried three times, but failed to get the words out. Then I changed what I was saying so that I could talk. The editor called me afterwards to find out what had happened to me, as for the last 17 years I had always been able to deliver even more sensitive and far sadder reports than this, without showing my emotions. I told him that, when I saw the Taleban, police and civilians, when I saw the poverty in their faces and how they were showing love to each other even though they had been killing each other only two days before, I found it extremely hard to express what this made me feel.

Latifa Frutan, teacher from Malestan working in Khas Uruzgan district of Uruzgan province

Latifa Frutan, a Persian literature graduate, teaches on a special project to get female teachers into insecure areas. She described to AAN how the number of pupils has decreased this year due to fear of the Taleban and because some families have moved to the more secure Malestan and Jaghori districts of Ghazni. She said the girls are frightened going to school as Taleban sometimes stop them on the way if they don’t have a male relative with them. Recently, for example, a girl was on a motorcycle with a boy and Taleban followed and stopped them.

1.  How was this Eid different for you? Why?

This Eid was very different. I hadn’t dared travel to Kabul before as I was afraid of being stopped by the Taleban and of fighting. When I heard that the Taleban had abided by the truce, I was very happy and on the second day of Eid, I set off for Kabul. (I had already travelled from Khas Uruzgan to Malestan, a few days before the holidays.)

We were stuck in a car jam in Ghazni city for two hours because the Taleban had gathered in various parts of the city, including Massud Square and Hakim Sanayi Park. The provincial police chief had [reportedly] ordered police forces not to prevent them from assembling. They were chanting slogans: “Death to the enemies” and “Long live the Taleban.” The Taleban had stuck their heads out of the windows of their vehicles chanting “Allahu Akbar.” Pashtun residents from Ghazni also joined the Taleban, wearing white scarves. There were also a few non-Pashtuns. My companions and I were very frightened, because everyone is afraid of the Taleban, given their past deeds, oppressing both men and women. We wondered what would happen and whether they would carry out explosions or suicide attacks.

2.  Do you remember an exact feeling you experienced when you first heard about the ceasefire? Did it make you sad, happy, pensive or confused?

I was pensive. I was wondering whether the Taleban, after all these [years of] explosions and suicide attacks, would finally make peace with the government. What would happen after the ceasefire? I’m afraid of the Taleban as there is always fighting in Khas Uruzgan. The district centre is controlled by the government, but the Taleban attack it at night. In fact, the Taleban rule it at night. The wounded Taleban are brought to Palan clinic for treatment. This happened after the Taleban forcibly closed the clinic last year because doctors weren’t treating them.

3.  Did this ceasefire meet your expectations? Please explain how and why?

I didn’t expect any explosions or suicide attacks, but we saw there were explosions in Nangrahar. The question is: why did they happen. [There were two attacks, one claimed by ISKP, which wasn’t part of the truce. For detail, see here.] The Taleban failed to prove that they really want peace, as they resumed fighting right after the truce ended. That showed that they only chant slogans of peace.

aleban and residents in Maiwand district of Kandahar province stand on an Afghan National Army Humvee, celebrating day three of the 2018 Eid ceasefire, as ANA soldiers look on. (Photo Javed Tanveer, AFP, 17 June 2018)

aleban and residents in Maiwand district of Kandahar province stand on an Afghan National Army Humvee, celebrating day three of the 2018 Eid ceasefire, as ANA soldiers look on. (Photo Javed Tanveer, AFP, 17 June 2018)

 

Wahida Arefi, works in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kabul

1) How was this Eid different for you? Why?

Before Eid, Kabul city faced many security threats and that stopped me from doing my usual Eid shopping. Just a few days before Eid, a huge suicide attack at the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development killed more than 15 people and injured many more [The attack was claimed by ISKP: more detail here]. An unpleasant scene before Eid was the increasing number of Afghan security forces in Kabul city searching vehicles, following the government’s unilateral ceasefire. The security warnings and notifications from the ministry for interior added to the pressure.

We had planned to spend the Eid holidays in my husband’s village in Jaghori district in Ghazni province. However, we heard about the deteriorating security before Eid in Ghazni. We weren’t sure whether the Taleban would abide by their ceasefire or not. My fear was that the Taleban might use it to come down to the main roads and stop travellers. I could simply not risk what I thought was our likely encounter with the Taleban along the way. A friend of mine also advised me not to travel to Ghazni. So we changed our minds and stayed in Kabul.

2) Do you remember an exact feeling you experienced when you first heard about the ceasefire? Did it make you sad, happy, pensive or confused?

I was happy to hear the Taleban following the government’s suit by announcing a ceasefire for Eid. However, I was quite shocked at first and then sad that terrorists were hanging around freely in the city, making people, particularly women, feel uncomfortable. It reminded me of the bad days for women under the Taleban regime. As a woman, I couldn’t stomach seeing the Taleban return to Kabul. I was also worried about what would happen after the ceasefire. Although I wasn’t in Kabul during their regime, I don’t want to imagine a day when women are kept away from education, work and public life. It would be very difficult to see a small group controlling very personal aspects of people’s lives, like what they wear, as was the case during their regime. When I heard about the ceasefire, I was happy. But when I saw the Taleban coming into the capital without any peace framework or conditions, I was worried that chaos could ensue.

3) Did this ceasefire meet your expectations? Please explain how and why?

No, this ceasefire gave rise to many concerns and questions about peace negotiations, which include whether the government wants to bring in the Taleban based on whatever terms and conditions they dictate, regardless of what different groups of citizens want and expect to see in peace.

After the ceasefire, the Taleban said the reason some people welcomed them and took pictures with them was because they were very popular. The ceasefire provided the Taleban with ample opportunity for unconstrained manoeuvring. I don’t think people have forgotten the war crimes they committed. But since the people aren’t engaged in the peace process, the Taleban will probably be granted immunity by the government during peace negotiations in the same way they were granted immunity during the truce to manoeuvre and in the same way the Hezb-e Islami leader [Gulbuddin Hekmatyar] was granted immunity.

Another concern is that people aren’t optimistic about the unilateral extension of the ceasefire by the government. They’re worried it could provide the Taleban with latitude and breathing space to orchestrate and carry out more deadly and complex attacks.

Saifullah Sadat, from Kabul, originally from Jaghatu district of Wardak province, standing in the 2018 parliamentary elections

1) How was Eid different for you? Why?

It was a unique celebration. This Eid was an opportunity for opposing groups to meet each other. They congratulated on the Eid and embraced each other. People who work for the government, NGOs and other organisations haven’t been able to return to their villages to see their relatives in the past. They feared they would either be harmed directly or caught up in fighting between the Taleban and the government along the way. This year, people who hadn’t seen their relatives for Eid over the last 17 years were able to go to their villages, and villagers came to Kabul to see their relatives. On the third day of Eid, I had guests at my home, but I had gone to my province, Wardak, before then. I met the Taleban, along with my relatives and the police who were all wishing each other a happy Eid. They were very happy, their eyes were tearing up and they were telling each other that we are all brothers. The Taleban and police were asking each other: why are we fighting?

2) Do you remember any exact feelings you experienced when you first heard about the ceasefire? Did it make you sad, happy, pensive or confused?

I was both really surprised and happy when I heard about the ceasefire and thought I’d go to Wardak province, to my village. But I was still not satisfied that the ceasefire would be implemented. So I couldn’t make my mind up as to whether to travel to Wardak province or not. But when I saw both the Taleban and police embracing each other and when our relatives were calling us to come to the village, saying the people were celebrating not only Eid but the ceasefire as well, I decided to make the journey.

3) Did this ceasefire meet your expectations? Please explain how and why.

The ceasefire exceeded my expectations. When two opposing groups don’t fight each other based on an agreement for a limited time, we call that a ceasefire. But to me and to all the people, it meant more. It was like a peace agreement where people could happily meet and celebrate Eid. I thought the opposing groups wouldn’t be able to observe a ceasefire for three days, that it wasn’t practical. But when I saw the Taleban in Kabul city, as well as in the provinces and districts, then I thought peace could happen. Both sides did not recognise each other as enemies. They were taking selfies and eating meals together. Taleban were offered food in people’s homes.

Ahmad Zia, school teacher in Bamyan province, central district

1) How was this Eid different for you? Why?

This Eid was different because both warring parties announced a ceasefire. Both Taleban and Afghan security forces behaved well with the people. Both sides hugged each other and said Happy Eid. I could see and feel that both sides are tired of war. Eid was celebrated in a peaceful situation. In the past, Eid hasn’t been like this – people are usually wary of the security situation.

2) Do you remember an exact feeling you experienced when you first heard about the ceasefire? Did it make you happy, sad, pensive or confused?

When I first heard about the ceasefire, I guessed something might have happened in secret, behind the curtain, as we say, ie both sides had agreed to it and now one side was announcing it. I was concerned about whether there was a consensus for the ceasefire and that, if other government stakeholders weren’t in the picture, this could lead to a crisis. Then I saw that some people weren’t very happy about it. They weren’t positive about the ceasefire.

3) Did the ceasefire meet your expectations? Please explain how and why.

My expectations were met to some extent because it made us hopeful for a permanent peace, but unfortunately, we heard that the Taleban violated the ceasefire in [Andar district of] Ghazni and detained seven ANA soldiers, taking them with them [see news report here]. The Taleban didn’t extend the ceasefire and on the fourth day of Eid, began their attacks again in nine provinces.

Taxi driver from Jaghori district, Ghazni (asked not to be named)

The driver has been carrying travellers back and forth between Jaghori and Kabul for the last seven years,. He says that over the years, he has encountered the Taleban several times and was stopped two to three times last year, mainly in the Nani area between Ghazni’s provincial centre and Qarabagh district. He says the Taleban searched him and his passengers for any documents indicating they might be working for the government or NGOs or that they might be studying. The Taleban took some passengers whom they thought suspicious to a nearby compound for further interrogation. They never found any suspicious documents on him and always let him and his passengers go, eventually. He says that each time he was checked by the Taleban, he was struck dumb with terror. He asked not to be name in the report, referring to the risks of his profession.

1 How was this Eid different for you? Why?

This Eid wasn’t different for me, personally. The only difference was that I, like other people, felt a trace of hope that the Taleban might finally make peace with the government and the people, but that was dashed after the war started up again after Eid.

2) Do you remember an exact feeling you experienced when you first heard about the ceasefire? Did it make you sad, happy, pensive or confused?

I was a little happy, but I was also sure that the truce was just ‘empty talk’ (gap-e muft), because the Taleban have always deceived the people and the government. The more the government trusts the Taleban, the more it’s cheated.

3) Did this ceasefire meet your expectations? Please explain how and why.

I didn’t have any specific expectations. The Afghan government doesn’t have the capacity to ensure people’s safety. The Taleban don’t stop ordinary people, only government employees and students. Before Eid, the Taleban attacked several places in Ghazni, which didn’t leave us any room – mentally – to have any expectations as to how the ceasefire might turn out.

Reza, ALP commander, Jalrez district, Maidan Wardak province

Reza was serving in this capacity in 2015 when the Taleban attacked a checkpoint killing 24 ALP.

1) How was this Eid different for you? Why?

Even though there was no incident during Eid, I was always thinking about what would happen after the ceasefire ended. I said to my men, “There is a quiet before a heavy storm,” and asked them to be prepared for any kind of attack. I was bewildered when I saw large numbers of Taleban militants marching in Jalrez during the ceasefire. There were many more than I had expected. I think Taleban sympathisers encouraged ordinary people to also go out hold and carry Taleban flags. It was a kind of [propaganda] manoeuvre for the Taleban, showing off their power and men. Seeing Taleban marching in areas under ANSF control was disconcerting.

During Eid, many tourists passed through Jalrez on their way to Bamyan. Our work [providing security for them] was much easier than at any time in the past few years. It was the only good thing, that made us happy, during this time. We don’t trust the Taleban so we were all conscious of everything that could go wrong.

The end of the ceasefire left me indifferent. For me, it is a return to normal life. Although I’m still waiting for the storm, I’m satisfied that no major incident has taken place since the end of the ceasefire, especially given the many tourists returning to Kabul from Bamyan.

Atifa Qudsi, principle of a private school in Kabul

1) How was this Eid different for you? Why?

People were really happy, this Eid, and sure that, at least during this holiday, there would be no suicide attacks or explosions and people would be able to visit relatives and friends peacefully and without fear. But from another point of view I believe this was the calm before the storm. I was concerned the day after Eid due to the weakness of the government. In the past, you could rely on the government to provide security, but not anymore.

2) Do you remember any exact feelings you experienced when you first heard about the ceasefire? Did it make you sad, happy, pensive or confused?

When I heard about the ceasefire, I was very happy. You know our people have suffered so much in the past 40 years of war. Our people are psychologically affected, so when you hear about a ceasefire after a lot of violence, of course, you get excited and happy. I made a wish as soon as I found out about the ceasefire. I wanted it to be permanent. What was interesting to me was that Afghan security forces and the Taleban hugged each other happily, which showed that both sides are tired of war and want a ceasefire, a permanent ceasefire.

3) Did the ceasefire meet your expectations? Please explain how and why.

I was expecting the ceasefire to continue so that our people, who have suffered so much, could be hopeful and live happily and that those Afghans who live hard lives outside Afghanistan could return to their country.

Farhad, government employee, Ghazni city

1) How was this Eid different for you? Why?

During previous Eids, I was very afraid of the Taleban and it was difficult to move around freely. I couldn’t go to see my parents who live in Jaghatu district. This year, Eid was different because of the government and Taleban ceasefire. So this time, Eid was calm and I returned to my village after a long time to see my parents. Some of my colleagues had the same experience. They could go to their villages without having to worry about security.

2) Do you remember an exact feeling you experienced when you first heard about the ceasefire? Did it make you happy, sad, pensive or confused?

When I heard about the ceasefire, I was very happy because it meant we could return to our villages to see our families and relatives. I thought, if the ceasefire really happens, people for the first time would be able to celebrate Eid safely and fortunately this did happen.

3) Did the ceasefire meet your expectations? Please explain how and why.

The ceasefire met not only my expectations, but also a lot of other people’s. People are thirsty for peace. We’ve experienced fighting and violence for such a long time and everyone is tired of this situation. Everyone wants peace. People were happy as they could celebrate Eid in a friendly and calm atmosphere. I know people want the ceasefire to continue, and while the government announced its extension unilaterally, the Taleban didn’t accept it. We expected both sides to agree to the continuation of the ceasefire, but it didn’t happen.

Employee at the Ministry of Energy and Water in Kabul (who asked to not to be named)

1) How was this Eid different for you? Why?

The difference this year was the ceasefire which meant the Taleban could come to the cities to be among the people and celebrate Eid. I wanted to go to Bamyan to visit my family and relatives, but I was sceptical that the Taleban would keep their promise [of not fighting]. I was afraid they would disrupt my journey as I don’t think they’re united or have just one leader.

2) Do you remember any exact feelings you experienced when you first heard about the ceasefire? Did it make you sad, happy, pensive or confused?

When I first heard about the ceasefire on the radio, I was happy and said that people might be able to celebrate Eid peacefully. But I was still concerned about its outcome as I thought the Taleban might enter the city and remain there, causing trouble in the future. I heard on the news that some of the Taleban didn’t return home after Eid.

3) Did the ceasefire meet your expectations? Please explain how and why.

To some extent the ceasefire met my expectations, although only for the three days of Eid. I wasn’t expecting them to extend the ceasefire.

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Thematic Category: Context & Culture