NANGARHAR -- A total of 31 Taliban fighters laid down their arms and surrendered to local authorities on Monday (January 6) in Nangarhar and Badakhshan provinces.
Twenty of the militants, who operated in Khogyani, Chaparhar, and Momand Dara districts, were presented to the media at a ceremony at the National Directorate of Security (NDS) facility in Jalalabad city.
After defeating the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), Afghan forces have scaled up operations against the Taliban in Nangarhar, said Nangarhar Governor Shah Mahmood Miakhil.
Efforts are under way to establish permanent security posts in areas cleared of the Taliban, he added.
"The remaining Taliban also have to either surrender or die. I call on all Taliban to give up fighting and surrender to live a normal and safe life with their families," he said.
Joint Afghan security forces have launched an operation against the Taliban in Momand Dara and Dur Baba districts, according to Miakhail.
"The presence of the Taliban in these two districts was somewhat larger. As a result, our security forces launched an operation and will establish new security posts there too," he said.
"Besides that, local police will also be mobilised to protect the area on a permanent basis and prevent the possible re-emergence of the Taliban. We will also deploy public uprising forces in areas where civilians are at risk," said Miakhil.
More than 200 Taliban members surrendered to security forces in 2019 in Nangarhar Province, he noted.
A council in Khogyani District has decided that the punishment for those who give the Taliban shelter will be to pay fines of 500,000 AFN ($6,400) and to have their houses burned down, Brig. Gen. Nazar Ali Wahidi, the NDS director for Nangarhar, told reporters.
"This decision should be implemented in all areas as the Taliban threaten our lives and as we must stand united against them or they will use local residents as human shields. Let's crush this group so that the general public can continue its normal life," he said.
"I had been a fighter in Momand Dara District under the command of Taliban commander Abdullah for four years... I would also sometime go to other districts to fight," said Hamayoun, one of the surrendered Taliban fighters.
"But now I have come along with my comrades and surrendered to the NDS, looking forward to living a normal life," he said.
Meanwhile, another 11 Taliban fighters surrendered in Jurm District of Badakhshan Province, saying that they could not tolerate the Taliban's oppression of locals anymore.
The group, led by Mawlawi Abdul Khalil, surrendered to the NDS on January 6, bringing along with them 11 heavy and light weapons, according to Abdul Awal Mohammadi, a spokesman for the NDS in the province.
The fighters decided to join the government because they were fed up with Taliban extorting money from local residents under the name of ushr and zakat, he said.
"I served with the Taliban for 10 years as a commander of a 10-man group in Jurm and Darayim districts. We were told that all government forces were infidels and that fighting against them was a holy war," said Khalil, the leader of the surrendered group.
"But I witnessed the ignorance of this blood-thirsty group on a daily basis. I had to spend 10 miserable years thinking that if I surrender to the government, it might kill me. But I was wrong," he said.
"I could not tolerate oppression ... injustice, selfishness, harassment and violence against civilians. Therefore, I decided to get in touch with the NDS to surrender," he said.
The majority of fighters linked to the Taliban are tired of war, having witnessed oppression and violence for so long, he said, adding they want a ceasefire and an end to the conflict in the country.
"We really regret what we have done, but we were misguided and had not realised the truth," said Mullah Abdul Sayad, 30, a resident of Seena village of Jurm District who fought for the Taliban for six years.
"Bullying, harassing, and beating locals for food and extorting money from them under the pretense of ushr and zakat are what the Taliban do to local residents," he said.
"There are thugs, outlaws, thieves, etc. in the ranks of the Taliban who have come together under the holy name of 'jihad' and cause the death of innocent civilians," he added.
"I swear that the Taliban used to demand food from civilians who had nothing at home," said Qari Mudaser, 35, a resident of Sooch village who spent eight years with the Taliban. "They wouldn't stop beating them until they somehow prepared food."
"The fact that this group joined the peace process will have a positive impact on other members of the Taliban. It will encourage the Taliban in other parts of Badakhshan to follow suit and join the government," said Naik Mohammad Nazari, a spokesman for the Badakhshan governor.
The provincial government will recruit a number of these surrendered fighters as local police, said Nazari.
"The government's door is open to all misguided fighters. Come, abandon fighting and violence -- respect peace and live beside your people and families," he said.