Afghans hope for peace amid ‘violence reduction’ week

An Afghan refugee distributes sweets on the outskirts of Peshawar to celebrate the step toward peace agreed between Taliban, US and Afghan forces. (AFP)
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Updated 23 February 2020

Afghans hope for peace amid ‘violence reduction’ week

  • The Taliban have ordered its fighters to refrain from visiting cities or government-controlled areas
  • US troops withdrawal is a tit-for-tat condition set by the Taliban during the talks

KABUL: Weary Afghans exhausted by decades of conflict expressed optimism on Saturday that a week-long reduction in violence could lead to a longer-lasting peace in the country.
Jubilant residents had danced in Kabul and the eastern city of Jalalabad’s public areas, as music blared from giant loudspeakers following news of the agreement between the Taliban and the US.
The armed group has committed to preventing suicide attacks, rocket fire and bombings — a key US demand ahead of a peace deal due to be signed on Feb. 29.  “We are smelling peace, let us welcome with good tidings this reduction of violence,” Mohammad Dad, a 46-year-old vegetable vendor in Kabul, told Arab News.
The US-Taliban agreement follows nearly a year and a half of concerted and secret talks between the two groups in Doha. The reduction of violence — if successful — would be followed by a gradual departure of foreign troops from the country and the start of an intra-Afghan dialogue.
The troop withdrawal is a tit-for-tat condition set by the Taliban, which has refused to engage with President Ashraf Ghani and his government.
Quli Beg, a university student in Kabul, welcomed news of the partial and unofficial truce as well as the prospect of peace deal being signed.
“The atmosphere is charged with optimism,” he told Arab News. “We fought against foreigners or among ourselves for over 40 years. Let us all give peace a chance and we have to unite and work for our country.”
The Taliban have ordered its fighters to refrain from visiting cities or government-controlled areas. A reduction in violence would also allow thousands of war-displaced people to visit their relatives in areas that were previously considered unsafe.
Sharifullah, who is one among tens of thousands of people displaced in the past 19 years, said he would try to travel from Kabul to the southern Helmand province after nearly 10 years.
“I have not seen my home, (my) village for a long time and I look forward to going there to see what has happened and see if we can return at some stage,” he told Arab News. “All Afghans, except warmongers here and outside, want peace.”
But there is scepticism in some quarters. “We pray that this leads to a total cease-fire, but at the same time since the a superpower is the main side of the deal, all Afghans must be vigilant and act prudently as superpowers during the course of history have acted cunningly and are skillfully cruel,” Karim Khuram, chief of staff for former President Hamid Karzai, tweeted.
Violence-reduction week comes at a time of increased political uncertainty in Afghanistan after the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced that incumbent Ghani was the winner of last September’s disputed presidential election.
His arch-rival Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who has shared power with him for more than five years, also claimed victory. He has warned that he will form his own government, alleging that the IEC has not invalidated tens of thousands of fraudulent votes cast in Ghani’s favor.
“The opportunity for peace is at our doorstep and I hope we exercise maximum responsibility towards it,” Omar Zakhilwal, a former minister, wrote.


UK coronavirus deaths pass 1,000: official

Updated 1 min 22 sec ago

UK coronavirus deaths pass 1,000: official

LONDON: The number of coronavirus deaths in Britain jumped by 260 in one day to pass 1,000, official data showed Saturday, the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson himself tested positive.
At 5:00pm (1700 GMT) on Friday, the death toll was 1,019, up from 759 at the same time on Thursday, the health ministry figures showed.
As of 9:00am on Saturday, a total of 120,776 people in Britain had been tested, of whom 17,089 were confirmed positive.
Johnson and his health minister, Matt Hancock, were confirmed on Friday to be among those infected, although both said they had only mild symptoms.
Their cabinet colleague, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, revealed on Saturday that he too had developed mild symptoms and was self-isolating, but had not been tested.
In a video message on Friday from Downing Street, where he lives and works, Johnson said he would continue to lead the government’s response to the outbreak.
Media reports suggest his pregnant partner, Carrie Symonds, who normally lives with him in Downing Street, moved several days ago to the couple’s south London home to self-isolate there.
England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty, another key player in the UK’s response, also said Friday that he was in self-isolation after experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.