KABUL -- The Taliban have a chance to end their violence against the Afghan government and public and to join the peace process, say security analysts and members of the Afghan High Peace Council (HPC).
The HPC, a government body, has long called for a negotiated end to the country's conflict with the Taliban.
Today, say those observers, progress is being made towards that end, citing the recent return of Afghan warlord and ex-prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to public life.
At a public rally April 29, Hekmatyar called on the Taliban to lay down their weapons and join the peace process.
"Come for God's sake, come and give up fighting that victimises Afghans," he said. "Come and join this caravan of peace... Set your goals, and I will be with you on your good goals."
An invitation for peace
President Ashraf Ghani reiterated the government's calls for Taliban insurgents to follow suit at the Kabul Process conference June 6.
"We are offering a chance for peace, but this is not an open-ended offer," he said. "Time is running out... this is the last chance: take it or face consequences."
The HPC and Afghan security analysts are cautiously optimistic that the Taliban and other anti-government groups are hearing Kabul's calls for peace.
"The Afghan government has left open the channels for communication and dialogue with the opposition ... and this is an opportunity for [the opposition] to use them," Kabul-based security analyst Ahmad Behruz told Salaam Times.
"Gulbuddin Hekmatyar took advantage of the opportunity that was presented to him by the Afghan government in the best possible way, for otherwise there would be no chance for him to appear among the public and freely express his opinion," he said, referring to the government's decision last September to lift sanctions on the Hezb-e-Islami leader.
War is not the solution
Insurgents will achieve nothing through violence, said Behruz, adding that it is in everyone's best interest for them to stop fighting.
The Taliban have realised that war will never work for them, said Muhammad Ismail Qasemyar, an adviser to the HPC.
During the past year, scores of Taliban militants -- disillusioned with their commanders' leadership -- have renounced violence, surrendered and joined the peace process.
"The best option for the opposition is for it to quit fighting ... so it can set forth its demands within the generally accepted legal, political and social frameworks," Qasemyar told Salaam Times.
In joining the peace process, Hekmatyar denounced the Taliban's fight against the Afghan government and called it illegitimate because innocent Afghans suffer the most in such conflicts.
Hekmatyar also received some publicity for his decision, Qasemyar said. "[He] would have never been able to achieve through war the status that he has now within society."
A long and difficult process
Afghan MP Obaidullah Barakzai, representing Uruzgan Province, expressed confidence in the peace process.
"Hekmatyar's presence, as well as his decision to join the peace process, will encourage a significant number of Taliban militants to quit fighting and to join the peace process, though it will be a very long and time-consuming process," he told Salaam Times.
Although the HPC and Afghan officials hope the Taliban and other government opposition groups will lay down their arms, some Afghan analysts remain sceptical.
"It is still too early for other militants to follow Hekmatyar's example in giving up the fighting and joining the peace process," said Afghan National Army Gen. (ret.) Atiqullah Amarkhil.
"First we must wait and see how Hekmatyar and his previous opponents are going to move forward with the peace process and evaluate the tolerance they show each other," he told Salaam Times. "It is only then that the Taliban might follow his example."
International pressure on Afghanistan's neighbours to shut down terrorist camps and end their financial and logistical support to militant groups will have significant consequences for the peace process, said Amarkhil.
'Everyone suffers in wars'
Afghan citizens, fed up with ceaseless war, are urging the Taliban to stop their mass murder.
"The Taliban won't be able to reap any positive results for themselves or for their families through war," said Mohammad Sabour, 34, a telecom employee in Kabul.
"Everyone suffers in wars: the Taliban and their own families, as well as other citizens of the country," he told Salaam Times. "[War] will not achieve anything, as has been the case over the past 15 years."
"The Taliban and their leaders must ask themselves what they have achieved during 15 years of war in Afghanistan, other than murdering the innocent, orphaning children, creating widows and forcing thousands of our countrymen to flee abroad to an unknown future," said Gulalai, 43, a schoolteacher in Kabul.
"If the Taliban truly consider themselves Afghans and Muslims, then they should support the Afghan government's peace offering and participate in political campaigns, rather than war and murder," she told Salaam Times.