AFP and Salaam Times
HERAT -- Twenty Afghan amputees, some in wheelchairs and others on crutches, began a gruelling trek of hundreds of kilometres across the country on Tuesday (August 7), demanding an end to the war that cost them their limbs.
The "Herat People's Peace Movement" began its journey in Herat city and will finish in Kabul, running the gauntlet of militants, roadside bombs and blistering temperatures.
"We are taking this journey of more than 1,000km (620 miles) to Kabul to tell the world to stop the war," Mohammad Musa, 40, who lost both legs in a land mine explosion, told AFP.
"The war has brought nothing except destruction," he said.
The amputees represent the human cost of the conflict in Afghanistan, which has increasingly put civilians in the crosshairs of militants.
The United Nations (UN) July 15 reported 1,692 civilian fatalities in the first six months of 2018, 1% more than a year earlier and the highest for such a period since the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) began keeping records in 2009.
Ziauddin, 65, a member of the movement who lost his leg in a roadside bombing, is optimistic about peace and wants to send his peace message to the parties involved in the war in Afghanistan.
"We have a message of peace to everyone who comes our way," Ziauddin told Salaam Times.
"We are tired of the war -- we call on the government and the Taliban to sit down and make peace. This fighting has brought hunger and misery," he said. "This destructive fighting should end as soon as possible."
"We call on the Taliban and the Afghan government not to continue fighting and bloodshed in Afghanistan because we are tired of the war," said Mortaza, 36, a disabled member of the movement.
"We're leaving today, and we will continue this journey to Kabul," Mortaza said.
Abubaker Qaderi, whose right leg was blown off by a roadside bomb 15 years ago, called for a "permanent ceasefire".
"War must stop; we want peace," the 50-year-old told AFP before setting off towards Kabul.
"For the sake of the next generation, they should stop fighting," Khan Zai, another protester, told AFP.
Khanzada, 75, who lost one of his legs during the fighting, told Salaam Times that he is determined to walk from Herat to Kabul with a cane, adding that he is ready to spend the rest of his life delivering a message of peace.
"We want to walk to Kabul to bring peace to the people of Afghanistan. I do not want Afghans, especially the new generation, to become disabled," said Khanzada.
"We call on the Taliban to stop killing Afghans. Whoever is being killed in this fight is an Afghan," he said.
The amputees' march is the latest demand by Afghan citizens for the Taliban to make peace.
Last month, more than 100 residents of Herat Province, including many of whom were also disabled by terrorism and the conflict, held a rally in Herat city urging the Taliban to stop their oppression and fratricide.
The recent march comes weeks after another group demanding peace, the People's Peace Movement, walked 700km from Lashkargah to Kabul, much of it during the fasting month of Ramadan.
That march, believed to be the first of its kind in Afghanistan, arrived in the capital June 18 as the Taliban ended an unprecedented three-day ceasefire and resumed fighting.
Hundreds of Taliban members did not return to the battlefields after visiting with family in cities and towns during the truce, having experienced Afghanistan's urban areas and discovering the lies of their commanders about Afghan society.
Meanwhile, Afghans from all throughout the country, as well as Muslim scholars from all around the world, have been declaring their support for the peace process and calling on the Taliban to come to the negotiating table.
The Taliban has not agreed to the protesters' demands and has ignored President Ashraf Ghani's offer of unconditional peace talks.
In spite of that, the Afghan government is expected to announce a second truce for the next Eid holiday (August 21-23).
Speaking at the inauguration of an electricity substation in Kapisa Province on Wednesday (August 8), Ghani said a decision will be made soon regarding a second ceasefire with the Taliban, according to TOLOnews.
The government wants long-lasting, sustainable peace for Afghanistan, he said.
The Taliban has long insisted on direct talks with the United States. Washington has repeatedly refused, saying negotiations must be Afghan led.
But there are tentative signs that diplomatic efforts to kick-start negotiations are starting to bear fruit.
How likely are the Taliban to hold direct peace talks with the Afghan government before presidential elections in July?