KUNDUZ -- A group of Taliban fighters, disheartened by the killing of innocent civilians, surrendered to local authorities in Takhar Province and handed over two of their comrades they detained themselves to security forces.
Four militants, led by Shah Muhammad from Khwaja Bahauddin District, put down their arms to join the peace process at the Takhar governor's office during a ceremony on May 20 in Takhar.
The Takhar governor's spokesman, Muhammad Jawad Hejri, said these four individuals had been in contact with the provincial office of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) about giving themselves up and bringing in the two other members. The two had refused to surrender.
"These four individuals arrested their two comrades, Mirwais and Azimullah; tied them up and handed them to the Takhar NDS office," Hejri said.
The group handed over four Kalashnikov assault rifles, a rocket launcher and seven rocket-propelled grenades as well as ammunition to security forces, he added.
'Don't even know the Shahada'
The group's leader, Shah Muhammad, 42, told a national television reporter on May 20 that the militants had been fighting against the government in the districts of Mawrai Kokcha of Takhar Province, and they had been away from their home and relatives during the entire period.
Mawrai Kokcha is the cluster of Khwaja Bahauddin, Yangi Qala, Dasht-e-Qala, Rustaq, Darqad and Chah Aab districts on the border with Tajikistan.
"We had joined the Taliban for jihad and fought alongside them for three years," he said. "We gradually got to know that it wasn't jihad but the killing of innocents and a purposeless war against an Islamic country."
"There are members of the Taliban who don't even know the Shahada, and the decisions they make in the name of Islam and jihad are all against the fundamentals of Islam," he added. "If they [the Taliban] cared about their people and country, they could at least stop the war and violence in the holy month of Ramadan. But on the contrary, they have intensified their violence."
"The Taliban leaders finance their operations and logistics with funding from tithes, zakat, drug trafficking, [illegal] taxes and aid from some countries, and they kill security forces and innocent civilians," Muhammad said. "We had been told that the Afghan security forces were infidels and that their killing was an obligation, but we later learned that in reality they pray five times a day."
"I regret my past," he added. "Now, my message to the public is that we can join forces and work together to build our country."
Another surrendered Taliban fighter accused the Taliban leadership of embezzling the group's money.
"When the Taliban leaders receive money from a country, they distribute it among themselves and give nothing to their member fighters," said Khairuddin, 37, without naming a specific country that provides funds to the group.
"Most of the Taliban are tired of fighting and are looking forward to the results of peace talks so that they can lay down their weapons," he said.
Assurance of a peaceful life
Muhammad Farid Zaki, the deputy governor of Takhar, welcomed the move by the militants to join the peace process. The group's surrender will improve security in the province and districts of Mawrai Kokcha, he said.
"The local government reassures all the anti-government fighters that the government's door is open to them and that the government guarantees their livelihoods," Zaki said in an interview.
"Those fighters who had previously joined the peace process were provided job opportunities by the High Peace Council, and now they have learned a trade and have a job," he said.
"We call upon the rest of the Taliban to lay their weapons on the ground, return to an ordinary life and enjoy living in peace with their wives and children," he added.
Demands for a ceasefire
Following the group's surrender, a number of Takhar residents called on the Taliban to declare an immediate ceasefire on the occasion of Eid ul Fitr.
"The people of Afghanistan have great memories of last year's three-day ceasefire, and this time too, both sides involved in the peace talks should observe a ceasefire," said Ataullah Sayedi, a civil society activist in Takhar Province.
He was referring to when the Taliban agreed to a temporary ceasefire with the Afghan government for the three days marking the end of Ramadan last year.
Afghans "from all walks of life including youth, civil society activists, tribal elders and women have rallied in support of peace and a ceasefire across Takhar Province in recent weeks and asked parties in the conflict to end the war and agree on a ceasefire", the 29-year-old added.
That call for peace was iterated by Atifa Qaderi, a 31-year-old civil servant in Takhar Province.
"For God's sake, please stop the war and make peace because it is in everyone's interest," Qaderi said. "We ask the opposing sides to declare an end to the war in the country in respect of the holy month of Ramadan and to embrace each other."