Marching to end bloodshed, People's Peace Movement arrives in Herat
HERAT -- A group of Helmand Province residents who have been demonstrating for peace since last year have brought their protest to Herat.
The People's Peace Movement, also known as the Helmand Peace Convoy, began as a 50-day sit in in Lashkargah after a deadly bombing there last March.
In May, members of the movement took to the road, marching to Kabul to raise awareness for peace and demand that the Taliban stop their violence.
Since arriving in Kabul in June, the People's Peace Movement has also travelled to Kandahar, Maidan Wardak, Ghazni, Balkh, Kunduz and Baghlan provinces over the past few months.
They arrived in Herat city on January 25, calling on the Taliban to accept the government's offer of a ceasefire and lasting peace.
"Afghans want a ceasefire, and the bloodshed must stop," Aminullah Wardak, a member of the movement, told Salaam Times.
"Parties to the conflict should sit at the table and resolve their issues," he said. "The Taliban must accept the public's appeal for peace."
"When we were in Kabul, President Ashraf Ghani himself came to meet us on the street and accepted our appeals," Wardak said. "We asked the Taliban for peace, but they unfortunately gave us a negative response."
"In northern Afghanistan, we walked into Balkh barefoot and went to Dand-e-Ghori and asked the Taliban for peace, but their response was no," he said. "We went to Kunduz and got a negative response from the Taliban. We also sent a letter to the Taliban in Uruzgan, but they said no."
Walking for peace
But the People's Peace Movement is not giving up hope.
"We walked hundreds of kilometres to Kabul and from there to the north of the country," Raz Muhammad Zheman, another member of the movement, told Salaam Times.
"The locals whom we met on our way... all of them said they wanted peace and that they are fed up with this war," he said.
"We have held protests in various provinces calling for a ceasefire," he said. "Last week, we held demonstrations in Uruzgan, Jalalabad and Khost. Now we're marching in Herat and Ghazni provinces. We have also held demonstrations in Shah Joy District of Zabul Province."
"We will continue marching in other provinces as well so that we can ensure an immediate ceasefire," Zheman said.
Sardar Muhammad Sarwari, a member of the Helmand Peace Convoy who lost a foot in an explosion, walked from Helmand to Kabul and from Kabul to Mazar-e-Sharif to deliver the message of peace.
"We have held demonstrations in a number of provinces, and we are committed to conducting more in other provinces," he told Salaam Times.
"We hope that a ceasefire is declared," he said. "We ask the Taliban and the government to agree on a ceasefire and put an end to the bloodshed in Afghanistan."
Welcomed in Herat
About 100 residents of Herat Province joined the People's Peace Movement in Herat city to support the peace process.
"Parties to the conflict must listen to the public's voices for peace and try to achieve and sustain peace and brotherhood in the country," Omaid Naab, a civil society activist in Herat, told Salaam Times.
"We welcome the Helmand Peace Convoy," said Arash Basharyar, a resident of Herat city.
"They started their journey from Helmand Province and walked to the north of the country. They came to Herat, and we echoed their calls," he told Salaam Times.
"We have been at war for 35 years, and [we don’t know] how long this war is going to victimise us," Basharyar said. "I want the Taliban to stop killing their brothers and join the peace process."
Farah residents join in
Meanwhile, almost 500 residents of Farah Province gathered in Farah city on January 25 to declare their support for recent peace talks between US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives.
"We all want peace in our country. I hope that our brothers in all provinces raise their voices for peace," Muhammad Dawood Haqyar, a civil society activist in Farah Province, told Salaam Times. "We want peace and a ceasefire."
"We haven't been this happy in our entire lives seeing peace talks in progress, and may God make these talks successful," Muhammad Sarwar, a Farah city resident, told Salaam Times.
"We want both parties to realise that they're brothers and that they ought to put an end to the war and make peace," he said.
"We want peace between the Taliban and the government," said Mir Ahmad, another resident of Farah city.
"The Taliban and the government should sit together and resolve their issues," he told Salaam Times. "We're losing young people every day, and it is destroying us."
"We are very happy that the peace talks are taking place," he said.