HERAT -- Recent efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan have increased hope among the Afghan people, who are fed up with war and long for stability and peace.
The latest efforts took place in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), where the Afghan government sent a peace negotiation team Tuesday (December 18), a day after US and Taliban representatives held talks there aimed at ending the 17-year conflict.
Officials from the UAE, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were present during the meetings.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, who led those efforts, was in Kabul Thursday (December 20) to discuss the ongoing negations with Afghan officials.
"The people of Afghanistan have been very proud of the peace process because the current peace efforts are far more serious and decisive than the ones from previous years," Kamran Alizai, chairman of the Herat Provincial Council, told Salaam Times.
"Foreign countries can help the peace process, and this time we are optimistic about their intention to bring peace to Afghanistan," he said.
"The Afghan people are absolutely tired of war," Alizai said. "They become very hopeful and happy whenever they hear a message of peace. They hope that after years of fighting, this war can be finally over and peace will prevail, so that civilians can continue to work and live in calm and tranquility."
The current efforts for peace are "completely different" from past attempts, he said. "This time, foreign countries are looking for peace, and we hope that peace will come."
Afghanistan has been suffering from bloody wars for decades, said 29-year-old Herat resident Ahmad Amiri.
"The Afghan people are extremely weary of these wars," he told Salaam Times.
"These days, there is an ongoing dialogue between the Afghan government and the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, and the Afghan people are all hopeful that these meetings will yield favourable results," he said.
"We are pleased with the performance of the negotiating team that has been formed by President Ghani to negotiate with the Taliban," Amiri said, expressing optimism that Afghanistan will soon be "free from war and violence".
Hope for lasting peace
Afghanistan's High Peace Council (HPC) has been working tirelessly to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
"Peace efforts have been under way for the past two years to bring the Taliban to the table," Ahmad Yama Amini, chief of the HPC's office in Herat Province, told Salaam Times.
"There has also been an effort to achieve a regional consensus regarding peace and dialogue, and we have already achieved a degree of success in that regard," he said. "Most countries in the region want peace in Afghanistan and have pledged to co-operate to that end."
"Recently, the United States has intensified its efforts by introducing Mr. Khalilzad, who is fully aware of the geography of Afghanistan ... and is well aware of the situation," Amini said. "His recent efforts in bringing about a consensus and in exerting pressure on the countries that can help the peace process have generated hope."
"These efforts are starting to bear fruit, and considering the unprecedented green light from the armed opposition groups, we will soon witness the launch of [formal] peace negotiations," he said.
In Herat, the Taliban has divided into several factions and some are ready to accept peace, Amini said.
"A Taliban group under the leadership of Mullah Haibatullah [Akhundzada] is waiting for the decisions made by its leadership with regards to the peace talks," he said. "The important matter here is that the Taliban in Herat are tired of fighting and want peace in Afghanistan."
A boost to the peace process
The peace process has achieved a national, regional and international consensus, said Muhyuddin Nuri, the acting provincial governor of Herat Province.
"The above three elements will help us in achieving success in peace negotiations in the country," he told Salaam Times.
"When the government declared a ceasefire, we witnessed a great deal of peace dialogue among those within the Taliban ranks in various parts of the country, and this is a massive shift," he said.
"Now that the US has participated earnestly and seriously in the peace process, a great deal of hope has emerged concerning bringing the warring parties in Afghanistan to the negotiating table in co-ordination with other involved countries," said Mohammad Rafiq Shahir, Herat-based political analyst.
"Although this is a highly complex situation and various organisations are involved in creating insecurity in Afghanistan, the Taliban is the group that matters the most," Shahir said.
"We hope that the Afghan war will end, and the only way to achieve this is through peace efforts," he said.
Opening the 'gate to peace'
The United States has the ability to exert great influence on the parties involved in the Afghan government-led peace process, agreed Herat-based civil society activist Sayed Ashraf Sadaat.
"The participation of the United States in the peace process is a huge concept in and of itself because all those accused of supporting terrorism in Afghanistan can be affected by the United States," he told Salaam Times.
"There are hopes that this time the gate to peace will open up in Afghanistan," he said.