LASHKARGAH -- About 4,000 men and women from throughout Helmand Province gathered in Lashkargah last month to collectively call for peace.
"Peace fulfills all of the nation's demands, and the Afghan government has always kept the doors of peace open, but unfortunately the country's external and internal enemies have not respected or welcomed this voice of the government," Helmand Governor Hayatullah Hayat said during the gathering December 28.
"Some of the neighbouring countries have not fulfilled their duty in this area, but the nation is still hopeful for peace," he said. "Our efforts will bear fruit. Peace will come."
He thanked the residents of the province for their continued support.
Sacrifices for peace
Peace is an Islamic and Afghan value and all members of society are obliged to make efforts for it, said Ghulam Mohammad Ishaqzai, chairman of the Helmand Provincial Peace Council.
"The Provincial Peace Council is trying to create an atmosphere of trust between the government and the militants in order to accomplish this supreme goal," he said at the gathering.
"[Residents] are supporting their government in each and every area, and they are ready to give any kind of sacrifices for peace," he said.
Religious scholars can play an important role in bringing peace and should work together with the provincial Department of Hajj and Religious Affairs to maximise their efforts, Mawlawi Musawi, a religious scholar from Helmand, said at the event.
"We never want fighting, and the Taliban are also tired of fighting," he said. "Negotiating with them [the Taliban] will open a door towards peace, and the Taliban also want to join the peace process."
Efforts should be made to include tribal elders in bringing peace to the country, said Brig. Gen. (ret.) Faqir Askar, a representative of the Tribal Council of Helmand.
"Every home in Helmand has seen the pain of fighting, and every one of its areas is burnt by flames; therefore, we need peace more than anything," he said.
"Now, talks should be held with those who are upset with the Afghan government and still fighting," he said. "We should compel them to join the peace process."
Progress towards lasting peace
The Afghan government and Afghan High Peace Council (HPC) have made "considerable progress'" towards "sustainable and real peace", said Akram Khpalwak, secretary of the HPC and senior adviser to President Ashraf Ghani.
"Fighting is imposed on the people of Helmand," he said during the event.
"Here, besides the terrorists, some home-based and foreign individuals are taking advantage of fighting," he said. "They should know that their era has passed and that, with the support of the nation, the government will put an end to all these miseries."
"If the militants are seeking peace, we are ready to begin peace talks with those from any district and area of Helmand," Khpalwak said.
"If the [militants] are fighting in the name of Islam, the government is completely ready to assign religious scholars as mediators, and if they are fighting for territory, we have the tribal elders to mediate in this area," he said.
"We call on the insurgents to end fighting and prepare themselves for peace talks in order to end the miseries and bring sustainable peace," he said.