HERAT -- A letter calling for peace purportedly signed by a Taliban shadow chief justice is the latest indication of division within the militant group, as some factions become increasingly inclined toward negotiations with the Afghan government.
The letter, signed by Mawlawi Abdul Hakim, appeared July 26 in Herat Province. Copies went to mosque prayer leaders and civilians and were posted on walls in the Keshk Kuhna, Rabat Sangi, Gulran, Shindand and Adraskan districts of Herat Province as well as in various cities.
In it, Hakim welcomed a previous ceasefire between the Taliban and the Afghan government in June during Eid ul Fitr, taking credit for the truce first declared by the government.
"Following the orders made by [Taliban chief Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada] and advice provided by members of the [Taliban] leadership council, a three-day ceasefire took place during Eid ul Fitr, during which time a large number of our brothers, including mujahideen and forces tasked with protecting Kabul's security, went to their cities and districts and celebrated the happy occasion of Eid with their relatives and families," the letter reads.
"Not only the mujahideen, but also the entire Afghan nation, became happy with this decision of [Haibatullah]. Hence, it would be appropriate that in the future, in addition to the jihadist activities, [that] the leadership of the [Taliban] pay attention to the demands made by both the public and the mujahideen," it said.
"Moreover, it is recommended that the mujahideen participate in all talks and negotiations that will bring about real peace and happiness to the nation," said the letter.
"We call on the members of [the Taliban] leadership council to participate in conditional and or unconditional peace talks, both inside and outside Afghanistan, with representatives of the people of Afghanistan, tribal elders and religious scholars, so that the [Taliban] can fulfill the responsibility it holds towards the people of Afghanistan," said Hakim in the letter.
"I am hoping that, moving forward, the [Taliban] leadership council review and revisit the decisions made by the honourable religious scholars, and to clarify its position for the Afghan people, as well as for the international community, by sending its representatives to peace meetings."
"In so doing, the [Taliban] can once again gain the trust and material and spiritual support of brotherly Muslim countries," wrote Hakim.
Taliban war weariness
Officials in Herat Province have welcomed the Taliban announcement.
The new position of the Taliban speaks of the group's weariness with the continuation of war, according to Jilani Farhad, a spokesman for the Herat governor.
"Following the previous ceasefire, we witnessed an increase in the Taliban's interest in the peace process," he told Salaam Times. "This announcement shows that a large portion of the Taliban leadership is interested in the establishment of peace."
Many Taliban militants in this province have already stopped fighting and want to join the peace process, according to Herat security officials.
Following the ceasefire of Eid ul Fitr, the level of violence in Herat has fallen, said provincial police chief Aminullah Amarkhil.
"We extend and open our arms to embrace all armed insurgents who want peace," he told Salaam Times.
"This time and with the experience we gained from the previous ceasefire in the days of Eid, however, we will pay more attention so that our nation, our security forces, our highways and our districts will not be harmed," said Amarkhil.
"We are waiting for the decision made by the leaders of the national unity government," he said.
A golden opportunity
Political observers in Herat and local residents are also hopeful that the letter could mean that the Taliban will soften its hardline stance and listen to the peace-seeking voice of the nation.
"The mounting pressure from the international community has forced the Taliban to accept the peace process," Mohammad Rafiq Shahir, a political analyst in Herat, told Salaam Times.
"The Taliban's offer of peace and ceasefire shows the extent to which the group is tired of fighting and war, and this is actually promising for peace and stability in Afghanistan."
It is high time for the start of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and both sides should take advantage of this golden opportunity, said Shuayb Karimi, 33, a civil society activist in Herat Province.
"Virtue lies in peace, and peace results in tranquility and prosperity in a community. Any action that brings peace and stability to Afghanistan will be appreciated, regardless of the group or faction that initiated it," he told Salaam Times.
"Our hope is to gradually transition from ceasefire to peace," said Sayed Ashraf Sadaat, 40, a civil society activist in Herat Province, told Salaam Times. "It is quite clear that all sides are weary of the war. We hope that through this ceasefire, peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban will be initiated."
Tur Mohammad Zarifi, a tribal elder in Shindand District, welcomed some of the positive signs coming from the Taliban.
"The Taliban must understand that anyone who is killed in Afghanistan under any pretext is ultimately an Afghan and that the benefits of this devastating war go only to the enemies of Afghanistan," Zarifi told Salaam Times.
"We, the people, want the ceasefire between the Taliban and the government to continue, and we hope that this ceasefire will result in the ending of war and the bringing of peace to our country," he said.