HERAT -- Hundreds of tribal elders, local authorities, civil society activists and youth gathered in Herat city Monday (May 13) to denounce the Russian and Iranian regimes' continued support for the Taliban's violent campaign against the Afghan people and government.
The rally of about 200 Afghans at the Ghazi Amanullah Khan Auditorium in Herat city followed an earlier gathering on May 6 of more than 600 Herat residents.
Participants at both of the gatherings labeled the Taliban "slaves" of foreign regimes such as the ones in Moscow and Tehran.
"Some of the neighbouring and regional countries like Russia and Iran support the Taliban and want to interfere in the peace process," Ghulam Farooq Raseb, a civil society activist in Herat city, told Salaam Times. "We don't allow these countries to play with the fate of the Afghan people. Neighbouring countries must stop supporting the Taliban."
"The Taliban should understand that the Afghan people do not accept" their enslavement by neighbouring countries, "especially... by Iran and Russia, and they must shed this [enslavement] immediately," he added.
Elham Bassam, an economics student at Herat University, called out the Taliban for their servility to foreign powers.
"The Taliban are being financed by neighbouring countries... they take orders from them," Bassam told Salaam Times. "We demand that neighbouring countries such as Russia and Iran, who finance the Taliban, leave the Afghan people alone so that they can live a peaceful life."
Once the militant group loses support from outside countries, the Taliban will have no choice but to accept peace, said Tahera Sayedi, a resident of Herat city.
"It's clear that neighbouring countries support and encourage the Taliban," Sayedi told Salaam Times. "If support and motivation" from those countries cease, "the Taliban can't do anything, and they will desperately have to seek peace."
"If the Taliban call themselves Muslims, they must allow the Afghan people to live in peace," she added.
No one can question who is lending support to the Taliban, emphasised Jawad Ameed, a civil society activist in Herat.
"There is no doubt that regional countries are involved in the Afghan war and provide support to the Taliban," he told Salaam Times. "Security forces have captured Russian and Iranian arms several times in the past from the Taliban."
"As these countries directly arm the Taliban, it means that they are engaged in the Afghan war," he said.
Disrespecting the demands of Afghans
Those at the rally rebuked the Taliban for its refusal to take part in a consultative Loya Jirga on peace late last month, saying it reflects the militants' desire to continue their campaign of violence against the Afghan people.
"Our demands at the consultative Loya Jirga for the Taliban and the Afghan government were for a ceasefire and an end to the war," Naweed Ahmad Wafa, a Herat Province participant of the consultative Loya Jirga, told Salaam Times.
"But the Taliban rejected the public's demands," noted Wafa. "At the consultative Loya Jirga, we insisted on preserving the government system, women's rights, civil society and media. We also said that we all want to take part in the peace talks."
"The Afghan people sent their appeal for peace to the world at the consultative Loya Jirga," Wafa said.
The Taliban's refusal "shows that they receive orders from other countries and that they have no respect for Islam or for Afghanistan", he added.
The Taliban's absence at the Loya Jirga only solidifies citizens' perception that the insurgents reject peace, Abdul Karim Haqyar, a political analyst in Herat city, said.
"The Afghan people expressed their demands at the consultative Loya Jirga that the government, the Taliban and the international community must accept peace," he told Salaam Times. "Now it's obvious that the Taliban rejected the demands of the consultative Loya Jirga for peace."
"This act of the Taliban has created a negative perception among the Afghan people," Haqyar said. "More than 3,000 residents of 34 provinces got together at the Loya Jirga, and their demands must be heard."
The Taliban's continued violence demonstrates their under-estimation of the Afghan people's desire for peace, said Kamran Alizai, chairman of the Herat Provincial Council.
"The Afghan people are thirsty for peace and fed up with war, but the Taliban tries to put more pressure on innocent civilians [by killing and injuring them] to gain more leeway in peace negotiations," he told Salaam Times.
Abdul Karim Azimi, 29, a Herat city resident, denounced the militant group for its "terrorist acts".
"All moves made by the Taliban undermine peace because they do not want Afghanistan to reach peace," he said. "All of us are tired of war, and the Taliban must respond positively to public demands."
"As a young Afghan, I am tired of the Taliban's terrorist acts. How much longer will we continue to see the killing of our innocent civilians and youth?" he asked.
A call for Taliban defeat
The Taliban's rejection of pleas for peace has ignited widespread anger among Afghans. Civilians are demanding that security forces compel the group to sit at the negotiating table with the government.
Exasperated Herat authorities are calling on Afghan forces to do whatever it takes to rid the country of the extremists.
"Afghans have raised their voices for peace several times, but the Taliban have never accepted the public's demands," Wakil Ahmad Karukhi, chairman of the Herat Provincial Council's security committee, told Salaam Times.
"The government must not continue to be patient with the Taliban. Security forces need to annihilate the Taliban and the rest of the terrorists," he said.
"When pressure is exerted on the Taliban, they will desperately turn to peace," Karukhi added. "Government forces need to switch from a defensive state and launch an offensive on the Taliban. Security forces should change their fighting tactics and conduct night raids on the Taliban."
"The Taliban cannot fight security forces face to face, and they must be annihilated," said Karukhi.
The Herat police are ready to take such actions, said Abdul Ahad Walizada, a spokesman for the department.
"Security forces in Herat are determined to defeat the Taliban anywhere they ... threaten public security," he told Salaam Times. "The police have reached areas where the Taliban used to operate and where the Taliban would endanger civilians' lives. The police have suppressed the Taliban in those areas."
"Security forces have made preparations to track down and annihilate the Taliban wherever they appear and attempt suicide bombings," he added.