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Afghans celebrate partial ceasefire with dreams of life after war

24 Feb 2020 Salaam Times

KABUL -- With a partial truce under way since February 22 and a potential peace deal between the United States and the Taliban on the horizon, Afghans are daring to dream of an end to the country's 18-year-old war.

The "reduction in violence" agreed to by the Taliban and by US and Afghan security forces comes ahead of a possible deal between the insurgents and Washington that would see the United States pull thousands of troops out of Afghanistan.

The Unite States has said there is an "understanding" for a "significant and nationwide reduction in violence across Afghanistan", while Afghan security forces will remain "on active defence status" during the week.

An Afghan refugee, left, distributes sweets February 22 at the Khurasan refugee camp on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan, to celebrate the 'reduction in violence' agreed to earlier by the Taliban and US and Afghan forces. [Abdul Majeed/AFP]

"The Taliban must demonstrate their commitment to a meaningful reduction in violence," US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper said on Twitter.

"Should the Taliban reject the path of peace, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our Afghan partners," he added.

While the move is fraught with uncertainty, it marks a potentially historic step in ending the long conflict.

On February 22, some jubilant civilians took to the streets to celebrate the reduction in violence period as the war-weary country woke up to what is potentially a major turning point in the war.

"It is the first morning that I go out without the fear of being killed by a bomb or suicide bomber. I hope it continues forever," taxi driver Habib Ullah told AFP in Kabul.

In Kandahar, considered the Taliban heartland, and Jalalabad, dozens of Afghans could be seen dancing the attan -- a traditional Pashtun dance -- in the streets in celebration.

"A temporary break in war is good, but we want a permanent ceasefire," said government worker Fazul Rahman, adding he also wants peace talks between the Taliban and Kabul to begin "as soon as possible".

Afghans have been sharing their hopes for peace on social media, tagging posts with hashtags #ifPeaceComes and #whenThereIsCeasefire.

"In the past 15 years, people have not been able to travel on highways safely. The Taliban stop them, kill them or kidnap them," Ramin Mazhar, a popular poet who helped spread the hashtags, told AFP.

If the reduction in violence holds, Mazhar said he would go to Nuristan, a remote province in the northeast of the country.

"I want to go to Nuristan, run, laugh, sing, dance, whistle and eat yogurt," he said.

"I want to touch its green hills, crazy rivers and blue sky. I want to climb its trees, and know its pigeons," he added.

'Sorrows and happiness'

Afghanistan was once a popular destination on the "hippie trail" that saw foreigners from across Europe travel to the country by bus en route to India in the 1960s and 1970s.

Tourism was all but destroyed following the Soviet invasion in 1979 that led to more than 40 years of fighting and instability.

Few Afghans have been able to visit areas outside of their immediate home ever since, while millions have relocated to urban areas or moved abroad.

The desire to see more of the country is strong.

Afghanistan is home to stunning mountain ranges like the snow-capped Hindu Kush along with verdant, remote valleys and swathes of pristine desert.

"I have promised to take my friends to Badakhshan... [and] will fulfill my promise only when there is a ceasefire," Abdullah Jahid wrote on Twitter.

"If peace comes, I will go to the remotest villages of Afghanistan to meet with the indigenous people, eat their food, learn about their handcrafts and share my sorrows and happiness with them," added Hamidullah Satari, another Twitter user.

The burst in enthusiasm comes as the Taliban and United States are expected to strike a deal on February 29 that would see American troops withdraw from the country in exchange for security guarantees, after more than a year of talks.

Most analysts agree a subsequent agreement between the Taliban and the government in Kabul would take years, but the breakthrough has spurred hopes.

Afghans from all walks of life have been using the hashtags -- outlining journeys to be taken by foot, bicycle or by car, while Afghans living abroad have vowed to return to their country and settle if the war ends.

Others have said they hope any peace will provide an opportunity to help those who have suffered the most after decades of bloodshed.

Heela Najibullah -- the daughter of former Afghan President Najibullah Ahmadzai who was brutally tortured and murdered by the Taliban in 1996 -- said she hoped to visit her father's grave in Paktia Province.

"I will walk to my father's grave. I will cry and pray that no other Afghan child becomes an orphan," she tweeted.

"I will make a school there, and teach at the university," she said.

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