KABUL -- Three separate groups of Taliban in Jawzjan, Badakhshan and Kunar provinces recently surrendered their weapons and opted to join the peace process with the Afghan government, officials say.
A key Taliban leader in Jawzjan Province surrendered to local officials on October 1, according to Mohammad Reza Ghafoori, a spokesman for Jawzjan governor.
"A prominent Taliban leader by the name of Awaz, also known as Hamkar, along with four militants under his command, joined the peace process," he told Salaam Times, adding that their surrender followed internecine clashes with other Taliban members who did not want them to switch sides.
"They also handed over their five weapons to the security forces," he said.
The latest defections are part of an encouraging trend.
"Since 2015, 800 armed Taliban militants have renounced fighting and have joined the peace process [in Jawzjan]," Ghafoori said.
'We were deceived'
Awaz, the former Taliban commander, said he learned the errors of his ways.
"When I first joined the Taliban, I thought that they really were implementing Islamic law," he told Salaam Times. "However, with each passing day, I, as well as those under my command, further understood the truth."
"We realised that we were deceived and that our actions were contrary to our religion," he said. "Moreover, [we realised that] all activities that we as well as other Taliban militants were committing in Jawzjan and some areas of Sar-e-Pul Province were detrimental to our people and our country."
"Other Taliban members tried to prevent us from [leaving] and consequently a fight broke out, as a result of which two of their leaders were killed and four others were wounded," he said.
"We handed over our weapons to the government officials and joined the peace process," Awaz said.
Ready for peace
In Badakhshan Province, another Taliban leader and those under his command joined the peace process on September 25.
"Last month, a group of four Taliban militants who had been fighting against Afghan security forces in various regions of Badakhshan left the war and joined the peace process, bringing along with them three Kalashnikov rifles and one Makarov pistol," Badakhshan provincial police chief Brig. Gen. Abdul Khaliq Aqsai told Salaam Times.
"For those Taliban members who prefer peace and stability over war and want to surrender their arms and ammunition, we welcome them and will provide them with a peaceful life," he said.
Another five Taliban members laid down their arms on September 24 in Kunar Province.
"Abdul, a local Taliban commander, along with four of his men joined the peace process in Narang District," Abdul Ghani Musamim, spokesman for the Kunar governor, told Salaam Times.
"This local Taliban commander along with his men were involved in armed anti-government activities in Narang District," he said. "[They] have denounced the war and violence and have joined the peace process after realising the legitimacy and righteousness of the government."
"This group of Taliban, in collaboration with Local and National Police in Kunar, chose a peaceful path, and surrendered their weapons, including rocket-launchers and Kalashnikov rifles, to the security forces," he said.
Welcoming anti-war Taliban
Waliullah, a resident of Narang district, said he supports the Taliban's decision to join the peace process, calling it "a good move, both for them as well as for Kunar's security and stability".
"If the Taliban continue their war against the Afghan people and government, [the Taliban] will be destroyed as were thousands of other Taliban militants who were killed in battlefields," he told Salaam Times. "Their families will be left without a guardian and will have to deal and struggle with scores of other social hardships."
"If the Taliban consider themselves Afghans, then they should abandon violence and refrain from destroying the future of their wives and children," he said.
"During 16 years of their activities, the Taliban have not done anything even remotely beneficial to Afghanistan and Afghans," Ahmad Zubair, a Kabul University student, told Salaam Times.
"As a result of their terrorist activities, thousands of innocent Afghans were killed, development projects were not implemented, millions of children were deprived of their right to education, and many bridges and culverts were destroyed," he said.
"In a nutshell, the Taliban's existence has been totally detrimental to the Afghan people," he said. "Peace is the best way to go."
Ensuring security and stability
"Taliban joining the peace process will ensure the establishment of security and stability in the country," Muhammad Ismail Qasemyar, an advisor to Afghanistan's High Peace Council, told Salaam Times.
"Moreover, choosing a peaceful life is in the interest of the Taliban and their families," he said. "When a Taliban member joins the peace process the government pays him a sum of money. They are also provided with employment opportunities and peaceful lives in their areas."
"Since the establishment of the High Peace Council [in September 2010], more than 11,500 Taliban militants have joined the peace process," said Qasemyar.