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No Taliban Reprieve During Ramadan In Afghanistan

A victim's shoe lies on the ground as police secure the site of a suicide attack in Kabul last month.
As Afghanistan welcomes Ramadan in the spirit of worship and forgiveness, the Taliban has vowed to step up its campaign of violence during the holy month.

This is a reversal from the norm in Afghanistan, where the near-continuous fighting traditionally slows during Ramadan. But this summer, which has already seen a worrying uptick in violence, the militant group has pledged no letup.

Ramadan carries extra religious significance for the Taliban, which claims that jihad provides more rewards during the period of religious observance considered one of the five pillars of Islam. According to Islamic teachings, Allah multiplies any good deed during Ramadan by 70.

"During the holy month of Ramadan, jihad has major rewards," Taliban spokesman Qari Yousaf Ahmadi said in an e-mail statement sent out on July 5. "Mujahedin will continue to employ all their fighting techniques to mount attacks on the enemy."

Early indications are that the Taliban will stay true to its word. On July 9, the day before Ramadan in Afghanistan, a roadside bomb struck a motorcycle-drawn cart carrying women and children in western Afghanistan, killing 17 people. On July 11, at least five people -- including two police officers -- were killed when two bombs exploded in southern Afghanistan.

Jihad + Vengeance

Wahid Muzhda, a political analyst and former Taliban spokesman, says the Taliban carrying out operations during Ramadan is nothing new but vengeance could be behind this year's message.

Muzhda says the Taliban may have been provoked by a purported Taliban message on July 5 that was rejected as fake by the militant group. That message said the Taliban would temporarily halt attacks during Ramadan.

The message was sent in the name of another Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, but he said his account had been hacked. He said it was the latest in an escalating cyberwar between Afghan intelligence and the militants.

"In that mail the enemy losers have tried to influence attacks by mujahedin fighters," Mujahid said. "We strongly reject sending any such e-mail on a stoppage of operations."

WATCH: Afghans in Kabul on July 10 shared a communal meal for iftar, the breaking of the daily fast at sundown, on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan.
Afghans Break Fast On First Night Of Ramadan
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As Muzhda observes, "The reason this [message] has gained attention is that the Afghans released a Taliban message saying they would observe a cease-fire during Ramadan. This [forced] the Taliban into a [strong] response."

The former spokesman says Afghanistan's intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), has gradually targeted the Taliban's complex and well-run messaging network, including websites and e-mail accounts, social media, and spokesmen using fake names.

Olive Branch Refused

The fresh violence erupted despite pleas from the United Nations and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In his Ramadan message on July 9, Karzai appealed for a cease-fire during Ramadan to show respect for the holy month.

"On the occasion of the holy month of Ramadan, I once again call on the Taliban, especially those Taliban who are sons of this homeland, to respect the holy month of Ramadan, to take the way of peace, compassion, and kindness and to stop killing people," the Pashto-language statement read.

As a goodwill gesture, around 60 Taliban prisoners held in the southern province of Kandahar, the Taliban's spiritual homeland, were released on July 10. The releases were ordered by presidential decree.

The Taliban's Ramadan pledge of violence comes as hopes of finding a political solution to the Afghan conflict dwindle.

The Taliban announced on July 9 that it had temporarily closed its new political office in Qatar, whose opening was viewed as a potential window for peace talks with the militant group.

The Taliban said it was ditching its office to protest the demand that it remove official markings such as the Taliban flag and a sign with the movement's formal name, the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan."

Karzai protested the presence of the flag and insignia as an indication that the Taliban intended to present itself as a "government in exile." The Taliban has blamed Washington and Kabul for using the controversy as an excuse to abandon peace talks.
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.