KABUL, Afghanistan – A three-day ceasefire marked by violent attacks – most claimed by ISIS – ended Sunday in Afghanistan amid calls for a resumption of peace talks between the government and the Taliban.
Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said government and Islamic Emirate negotiating teams, as the Taliban referred to their ousted regime, briefly met in the Middle East on Saturday. East of Qatar. They renewed their commitment to find a peaceful end to the war and called for an early start to the talks which were stalled, he said.
The United States has pushed to speed up talks by withdrawing the last of its 2,500 to 3,500 troops and NATO the remaining 7,000 Allied forces.
Even as the Taliban and the government signed the ceasefire, which was declared to mark the Islamic holiday of Eid-al-Fitr, violence continued unabated in Afghanistan. A bombing on Friday in a mosque north of the capital killed 12 worshipers, including the prayer leader. 15 other people were injured. The Taliban denied any involvement and blamed the government intelligence agency.
In a statement on Sunday, Isis’ affiliate took responsibility for the attack on the mosque, claiming that his fighters had placed an explosive device in “a place of worship for Sufi disbelievers”, killing “the apostate Imam” , or prayer leader. The statement claimed that 40 worshipers were injured.
Isis also claimed to have blown up several power grid stations over the weekend. This left the capital Kabul in the dark for much of the three-day vacation following the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
In posts on its affiliate websites, Isis claimed additional attacks in the past two weeks that destroyed 13 power grid stations in several provinces. The stations bring in electricity imported from Central Asian countries such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
The attacks left nine provinces, including Kabul, with interrupted power supplies, said Sanger Niazai, a government spokesman. There were also concerns that local warlords, demanding government protection funds to protect stations in areas they control, may have been behind some of the destruction.
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At least one local warlord was arrested last year after demanding money for protection.
The seemingly unstoppable violence in Afghanistan has raised concerns among residents and countries of the region that the final withdrawal of US and NATO troops could lead to further chaos.
Washington has said it wants its last soldier to leave Afghanistan by September 11 at the latest, but the withdrawal is progressing rapidly and a Western official familiar with the exit has said it will likely be completed by early July. He spoke on condition of anonymity as details of the withdrawal are not being made public.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday expressed concern over the early withdrawal of US and NATO forces during a phone call with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
Wang called the hasty and heated withdrawal it would have a “serious” impact on the Afghan peace process and negatively affect regional stability. He called on the United Nations to play a greater role.