KABUL -- Taliban commanders are continuing to reject peace, despite repeated calls to end the war from the Afghan government, religious scholars, public protests and even local Taliban members.
Following the mutual ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban during Eid ul Fitr, calls for the Taliban to lay down their arms and join the peace process have continued to mount.
During a Friday prayer sermon June 22 in Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Sudais, the imam of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, called on the Taliban to extend the ceasefire so the ground can be prepared for an intra-Afghan dialogue.
On June 21, the Afghan Refugee Youth Peace Caravan, a group of Afghan refugee youth residing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, began marching from Peshawar to Kabul.
"We call on the Taliban and other insurgents to come and make peace," the group's leader, Jarnail Pakhtun, told Salaam Times. "War solves nothing."
Meanwhile, on June 13, about 20 women and girls marched from Mukhaabrat Square to Pashtunistan Watt in Jalalabad, demanding that the Taliban make peace and declaring their support for the recent ceasefire.
The group that kicked off these public calls for peace is the People's Peace Movement, comprised of youth and elders from Lashkargah, Helmand Province.
Following a 50-day sit-in, the group left Lashkargah on May 13 and walked the entire way to Kabul to demand peace. Dozens of protesters arrived in the capital on June 19 to call on the Taliban to extend its ceasefire.
The People's Peace Movement, also called the Helmand Peace Convoy, is expected to meet with tribal elders and religious scholars Thursday (July 5) to keep urging the Taliban to seek peace.
"We want to open the door of peace, meetings and talks with the Taliban through [mediation by] tribal elders and religious scholars," said group leader Iqbal Khyber.
The Taliban called the efforts of the Helmand protesters "a foreign plot", according to a June 29 report on the group's official website.
Both the Afghan government and local Taliban members are willing to make peace, said Bismillah Watandost, a member of the Helmand Peace Convoy.
"On our way from Helmand to Kabul, we discussed and talked about peace with local Taliban members," he told Salaam Times. "They want peace and ceasefire. They are weary of the conflict and no longer want to wage war."
The Taliban's foreign leaders, however, are trying to prevent peace from happening, Watandust said.
He said his group will continue protesting for peace and asks other Afghans to join them.
All Afghan citizens, even the Taliban, are tired of fighting and are eager to join the peace process, said Zifunun Safi, a representative from Laghman Province in the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of parliament).
During the three days of Eid, when the government and the Taliban had both observed the ceasefire, a number of local Taliban met with her and expressed their interest in peace, she said.
"The local Taliban with whom I met were tired of war and demanded a ceasefire and peace," she told Salaam Times.
"These local Taliban had some small requests for joining the peace process, including, for instance, wearing of the hijab by women on television, guaranteeing their personal security and providing them with jobs," Safi said.
It is possible that some Taliban leaders and commanders, who are powerless and the puppets of foreigners, do not want to make peace, she said.
However, a great number of Taliban militants and some of their commanders are prepared to make peace, provided that the government develops a comprehensive and transparent mechanism, she said.
Dreams of peace
"The people are tired of war. It is high time that they put pressure on both the Taliban and the government to provide security and peace in the country," Farooq Bashar, a former law professor at Kabul University, told Salaam Times.
"[Civilians] should step up to attain peace, as did the youths of Helmand and Kunar, and they must force the Taliban to join the peace process and to no longer shed the blood of the innocent," he said.
The Afghan people need to gather with one voice to achieve peace, said Mahdi Mubasher, a civil society activist in Kabul.
"Peace is a dream for every citizen of this country, and it is also the responsibility of each and every citizen to stand alongside the Helmand youth and to work towards achieving peace," he told Salaam Times.
"When [Afghans] join their voices together and seek peace, when they do not allow those Taliban members who do not join the peace process to come to their regions and when they co-operate with the government, the Taliban will become pariahs and will have no choice but to make peace," Mubasher said.
Government ready to negotiate
Reiterating the government's commitment to peace, President Ashraf Ghani on June 26 said the Afghan government will negotiate with the Taliban in any part of the country the group chooses.
He made his remarks at a gathering of the High Peace Council and Afghanistan's Ulema Council in Kabul.
"Come and make peace," Ghani appealed to the Taliban, speaking at a news conference June 30 in Kabul. "This is not foreign pressure. This is what the ulema and every man and woman have demanded."
"The ulema put the Koran in front of you," Ghani said, addressing the Taliban. "Now you should decide: you are either going to kill these people, or you will give them a positive answer."