ISLAMABAD - Five countries, several of whom have been closely involved in efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan, issued a joint statement welcoming the Eid cease-fire in the country and calling on all parties to take it forward from here.
"We encourage the parties to take further steps in the days and weeks ahead in order to enter into, without delay, intra-Afghan negotiations aimed at securing a durable peace settlement that ends the conflict in Afghanistan," said a joint statement by Qatar, Germany, Indonesia, Norway, and Uzbekistan issued Sunday, the day Afghans celebrated Eid al Fitr, one of the holiest Muslim festivals.
The statement followed an announcement by the Afghan Taliban they would withhold attacks for three days starting Sunday.
"In order that our countrymen may celebrate their Eid festivities in ease and comfort, the leadership of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan orders all the mujahedeen ... not to attack the enemy in any place," a Taliban statement said.
President Ashraf Ghani reciprocated by offering his own cease-fire and releasing 2,000 Taliban prisoners.
The Taliban have been demanding release of up to 5,000 of their prisoners, as agreed upon in their deal with the U.S. before they would sit for intra-Afghan negotiations that would include representatives from all factions of Afghan society. The negotiations are supposed to lead to a permanent end to hostilities and a governance structure that all Afghans, including the Taliban, agree upon.
The Afghan government wanted the militant group to announce a nationwide cease-fire before it would release its prisoners.
Calling it a "positive step that gives cause for hope," the five countries urged both sides to begin "a permanent and comprehensive reduction in violence so as to bring lasting relief to the Afghan population."
The statement seemed to reinforce a message from Zalmay Khalilzad, the top U.S. negotiator with Taliban.
"Other positive steps should immediately follow: the release of remaining prisoners as specified in the U.S.-Taliban agreement by both sides, no returning to high levels of violence, and an agreement on a new date for the start of intra-Afghan negotiations," he Tweeted.
The developments came after the high levels of violence in Afghanistan threatened to derail a peacemaking agreement the militants had signed with the United States at the end of February.
The five countries issuing the statement have long tried to play a role in bringing peace to Afghanistan by engaging with both sides and whenever possible, bringing the warring factions together through conferences or meetings for a dialogue.
Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country, arranged meetings of Muslim clerics from various regional countries to agree on the need for peace in Afghanistan and oppose violent extremism.
Qatar played one of the most important roles by hosting a Taliban political team in its capital Doha in order to facilitate talks between them and the United States or Afghan government.
All five offered further help if needed.
"As like-minded countries resolved to co-operate in our support for an inclusive peace process in Afghanistan, we stand ready to assist the process in any way the parties may wish," their statement said.