WASHINGTON/KABUL – The Taliban has yet to respond to an Afghan government call for a temporary truce during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins on Friday.
Experts say the insurgents are likely to continue their attacks against government forces.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Abdul Hakim Munib, the Afghan minister for hajj and religious affairs, called for the cease-fire, which he said will also enable the government to better respond to the “common threat” of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Taliban have rejected similar calls in the past. In 2018, the group only agreed to a cease-fire during Eid al-Fitr, the three-day holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.
“It is unlikely (the Taliban) would offer an entire month of cease-fire,” said Andrew Watkins, a senior Afghanistan analyst at the International Crisis Group.
Watkins said a temporary suspension of fighting could be “the greatest leverage that the Taliban has when it comes to negotiating with the Afghan government.” He said the group may want to delay using the leverage for a more strategic objective.
Watkins said another reason the Taliban would refuse a truce is fear of not being able to maintain control of its own organization during a prolonged cease-fire.
“What if they would try to bring everyone in the organization back to becoming active again, and they (Taliban members) just do not return?” Watkins said.
Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told VOA the Taliban does not consider the Afghan government as legitimate, and “won’t directly negotiate or deal with any request” from the government.
Roggio added, however, that any cease-fire offer by the Taliban would have to be on their own terms.
Earlier this month, the Taliban said they were willing to temporarily suspend fighting in the areas they control only if they were hit by the coronavirus. The group said suspension of fighting in those areas would be to ensure the safe passage of relief groups delivering medical aid.
Michael Kugelman, a South Asia analyst at the Woodrow Wilson Center, told VOA that by announcing its cooperation in the areas under its control, the Taliban “is trying to project itself as a responsible, legitimate and credible partner in efforts to launch a reconciliation process.”
He said the Taliban will agree to a cease-fire only if they are convinced that a truce would enhances their status.
COVID-19 in Afghanistan
Afghanistan reported its first positive case of COVID-19 on Feb. 23. The country’s public health minister, Ferozuddin Feroz, later warned that the coronavirus could kill as many as 110,000 Afghans if it was not contained.
Wahedullah Mayar, a spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, said Wednesday that the total number of infections has now reached 1,179, out of which 40 people have died.
Some Afghan officials fear the number of positive cases might be much higher than reported, since the country has limited capacity to test everyone showing symptoms. They say the government has also been unable to reach areas where militant groups such as the Taliban and Islamic State are active.
The Ministry of Public Health said it can only test 500 cases in 24 hours across the country but plans to soon increase the testing capacity to 1,000 a day.
To allow the Afghan government to use its resources to combat the pandemic, President Ashraf Ghani and the international community have called on the Taliban to end the fighting. But according to the Afghan Ministry of Defense, the group increased its attacks on Afghan security forces.
WATCH: Afghan-Taliban ceasefire
Increase in violence
In a deadly attack on Wednesday, the Taliban reportedly killed at least 11 Afghan forces in the northern Saripol province. In two other attacks in the provinces of Takhar and Balkh last week, 28 local Afghan forces were killed.
“It is possible that this increase in fighting could be related to an upcoming spring offensive,” said Watkins of the International Crisis Group, adding that in the past, the Taliban has used seasonal changes as a militant strategy.
Nevertheless, the Afghan government claims the attacks show the Taliban are not committed to the terms of the peace agreement they signed with the United States in late February.
“After the reduction of violence, the Taliban have continued their terrorist attacks consistently and extensively, contrary to the peace agreement, against Afghan security and defense forces and the people of Afghanistan,” Fawad Aman, a spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, told VOA. He said the government has since only taken defensive measures.
Under the agreement signed on Feb. 29, the Taliban committed to counterterrorism guarantees, including not allowing extremist groups such as al-Qaida and Islamic State to operate in the areas they control. U.S. and NATO allies will withdraw all troops within 14 months if the group upholds the deal.
Afghan political analyst Khalil Sapi told VOA that the Taliban considers its peace negotiations with the U.S. separate from the conflict with the Afghan government.
“The Taliban say that they agreed to a conditional cease-fire with the U.S., but until now, they have not agreed to a cease-fire or reduction in violence with the government of Afghanistan,” he said.
Sapi added that the Taliban can claim they are not breaching the terms of the deal, despite the intensified attacks against Afghan forces.