Dozens of young girls were buried after a school was targeted in the bloodiest attack in Afghanistan in over a year.
The Taliban has declared a three-day ceasefire across Afghanistan to mark this week’s Eid al-Fitr holiday, two days after more than 50 people – mostly young girls – were killed in bomb blasts outside a school in the capital Kabul.
“Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate are instructed to halt all offensive operations against the enemy countrywide from the first till the third day of Eid,” a statement released by the Taliban said on Monday.
“But if the enemy conducts any assault or attack against you during these days, stand ready to robustly protect and defend yourselves and your territory,” it added.
The ceasefire announcement comes as the United States continues to pull out its last 2,500 troops 20 years after it invaded the country and removed the Taliban from power. US-led efforts to bring peace seem to have faltered as talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have hardly progressed.
Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, its start determined by the sighting of the new moon. The Taliban declared similar ceasefires last year to mark Muslim holidays.
The government usually reciprocates with a truce, and Fraidon Khawzon – spokesman for chief negotiator Abdullah Abdullah – said early Monday: “We welcome the announcement … the Islamic republic is also ready and will announce soon.”
Meanwhile, on Monday, the interior ministry said at least 11 people were killed in a bus explosion in Zabul province just hours before the Taliban ceasefire announcement.
Interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian told reporters at least 28 people were wounded in Monday’s Zabul bus blast.
The latest offer comes after the government blamed the Taliban for Saturday’s attack outside a girls’ school in Dasht-e-Barchi, a suburb of the capital largely populated by the Hazara community.
A series of blasts outside the school – at a time when residents were shopping ahead of the holiday – killed more than 50 people and wounded more than 100.
It was the deadliest attack in more than a year.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani declared Tuesday a day of national mourning.
“This savage group does not have the power to confront security forces on the battlefield, and instead targets with brutality and barbarism public facilities and the girls’ school,” he said in a statement.
The Taliban, who denied responsibility, had earlier issued a statement saying the nation needed to “safeguard and look after educational centres and institutions”.
On Sunday, relatives buried the dead at a hilltop site known as “Martyrs Cemetery”, where victims of attacks against the Hazara community are laid to rest.
Hazaras are Shia Muslims who have historically faced persecution in the country of 38 million.
Bodies in wooden coffins were lowered into graves one by one by mourners still in a state of shock and fear, an AFP news agency photographer said.
“I rushed to the scene [after the blasts] and found myself in the middle of bodies, their hands and heads cut off and bones smashed,” said Mohammad Taqi, a resident of Dasht-e-Barchi, whose two daughters were students at the school but escaped the attack.
“All of them were girls. Their bodies piled on top of each other.”
Books and school bags belonging to the victims still lay scattered at the site of the attack.
The Taliban denies it has carried out attacks in Kabul since February last year when its negotiators signed a deal with Washington that paved the way for peace talks and withdrawal of the remaining US troops.
The Taliban have clashed daily with Afghan forces in the rugged countryside even as the US military reduces its presence.
Taliban chief warns the US
The US was supposed to have pulled all forces out by May 1 as agreed with the Taliban last year, but Washington pushed back the date to September 11 – a move that angered the armed group.
The leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhunzada, reiterated in a message released ahead of Eid that any delay in withdrawing the troops was a “violation” of that deal.
“If America again fails to live up to its commitments, then the world must bear witness and hold America accountable for all the consequences,” Akhunzada warned in Sunday’s message.