By Nasir Salehi
HERAT -- More than 1,000 Herat residents, including tribal elders, religious scholars, civil society activists and ordinary citizens, including many women, took part in a gathering organised by the High Peace Council (HPC) Tuesday (August 7) to welcome a recent Taliban statement seeking peace.
"The Taliban have already requested a ceasefire and issued statements regarding their inclination to hold a ceasefire during Eid ul Adha," Mawlawi Ghulam Sarwar Barakzai, chairman of the Herat Provincial Peace Council, told Salaam Times. "That is the reason why we held this gathering, to inform the public of these developments."
He was referring to a recent letter said to have been published by Taliban shadow chief justice Mawlawi Abdul Hakim in some districts in Herat and other Afghan cities. The letter reportedly praises an earlier ceasefire during Eid ul Fitr and says that the group may enter into real negotiations in addition to its military activities.
The Taliban want to join the peace process in Herat, which has led small militant groups in western Afghanistan to contact the HPC, according to Barakzai, adding that many have already had direct talks.
"The Taliban send us their delegates every day, and we also send our representatives to them," he told Salaam Times.
"In the past few days, we sent our representatives to Shindand District, Herat Province, and the Taliban have already expressed to our representatives their inclination to join the peace process," he said.
The meeting also was aimed at stating support for various fatwas against the Taliban's war declared by religious scholars from Afghanistan and across the Islamic world.
Thousands of clerics from all across Afghanistan gathered in June in Kabul, declaring suicide bombings haram and issuing a fatwa against the conflict in Afghanistan. Later in July, more than 100 Muslim scholars from 57 countries met in Saudi Arabia to announce their full support for lasting peace in Afghanistan.
More than 100 religious scholars who took part in the peace gathering in Herat Province joined in to unanimously declare the war haram.
Those who fight, oppress Afghans and murder youth without showing mercy for anything or anyone in Afghanistan are the ones who falsely claim to fight in the name of Islam in this country, said Mohammad Jawad Tavakoli, a religious scholar in Herat.
"This war does not have any legitimacy because the path to peace exists and because the entire nation of Afghanistan has been extending its hand for peace," he told Salaam Times.
The war in Afghanistan has no possible outcome but devastation and fratricide, said Sultan Ahmad Haqju, the imam of a mosque in Herat Province.
"A war is legitimate only when Islam is in danger," he said. "Now, however, no threat exists [against Islam.] Hence, this war is not legitimate, and no one in Afghanistan wants war."
"We, too, are Muslim. Our nation, too, is a Muslim nation ... therefore, the [Taliban's] war is certainly illegitimate," Haqju added.
The province's residents are calling on the Taliban to refrain from further killings, said Zaynab Rahimi, 27, a resident of Herat who attended the peace gathering.
"If participation in the government is what they really want, then they must understand that suicide attacks, warfare and killing youth are not the way to reach it," Zaynab told Salaam Times.
She called on the Taliban to express their demands to the government through negotiations and to refrain from further shedding of innocent blood.
"All of us unanimously are saying that we want peace, we demand peace, we support peace and we support every plan that is about peace," Zaynab added.
"I think the Taliban should provide their demands to the government and that the government should do the same," said Mahsa Ahmadi, 23, a student of Herat University medical school.
"However, [the government] should not in any way compromise on the demands of the public," Ahmadi told Salaam Times.
How likely are the Taliban to hold direct peace talks with the Afghan government before presidential elections in July?