KUNAR -- Former Taliban and "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) commander Qayoum Zandani stood with a pakul on his head, flowers around his neck and the Afghan flag in his hand as he surrendered to local authorities in Asadabad, capital of Kunar Province.
The former militant commander along with 13 of his comrades surrendered to Afghan forces on July 3, admitting they were misled and renouncing violence.
"When the [Taliban] emerged, I joined them as a commander," Zandani, 39, told reporters. "The Taliban meant well in the beginning, but they got worse later. When [ISIS] appeared, I took the opportunity and joined it."
"I experienced both of these groups," he said. "Both ISIS and the Taliban called the fallen members of their groups 'martyrs'... But when I realised that both parties fight for the interest of foreigners, I decided to quit fighting."
Zandani said he had been an active ISIS operative in the Asmar, Shigal and Ghaziabad districts of Kunar Province for the past four years.
"I joined Daesh for the first time because the then-leader of the group, Hafiz Saeed, was my teacher," he said, using another name for ISIS. Saeed was killed in Nangarhar Province in July 2016.
"I went to Achin District, Nangarhar Province, where I met Hafiz Saeed in person, and he congratulated me on joining ISIS," Zandani said. "He then deployed me to Asmar District in Kunar Province, where I started recruiting. I recruited many people and sent them to Achin for training."
"But I now realise that the war was not for Islam."
'Tricked' into joining ISIS
"Daesh tricked many young people, calling them fighters for Islam who will go to heaven," Kunar Governor Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal told reporters during the surrender ceremony. "But there is no place in Islam for killing your brothers, fellow Muslims, religious scholars and tribal elders. How can they claim that they will go to heaven?"
"Commander Zandani, who knows about religion, will now freely live with his family," he said. "He will encourage his remaining friends as well to come and return to a normal life."
"Anywhere [ISIS militants] appear, they will be killed," Mirzakwal added, referring to those who intend to keep fighting.
Muhammad Rafiq, 26, was among those who surrendered.
"I had been with ISIS for two years," he told reporters. "We were deployed in Nangarhar much of the time. We fought the Taliban there. Then, we came here and fought the Taliban again."
"We were naïve," he said. "They [ISIS recruiters] tricked us into believing that Daesh was on the right side. But I now realised that it wasn't on the right path because it kills Muslims."
"I want to live like an ordinary person," he said. "I spent all my life in the mountains and fighting, and I have become too tired. It is enough. I don't want to fight again."
"For as long as I can remember, I have been carrying a weapon," Shafiqullah, another former ISIS fighter, told Salaam Times. "But I haven't seen any benefits of it, and I haven't had the chance to live in peace."
"There is no benefit in war," he said. "We have to make peace and reject orders from others who encourage us to ruin our country. The destruction we caused is regrettable."