HERAT -- More than 400 residents from the western districts of Herat Province rallied in the centre of Ghorian District on Wednesday (February 19) to demand the Taliban agree to a ceasefire and work for permanent peace in the country.
Participants, who included members of youth groups, religious scholars and civil society activists from districts including Zindajan and Kohsan, called for the Afghan government and militants to respond positively to the demands of Afghans for peace.
"Everyone wants a ceasefire and an end to the war," said Malang Shah Haidari, a resident of Ghorian District. "We call on all parties involved in the conflict to, in addition to a reduction in violence, declare a ceasefire so that the situation becomes more conducive for peace."
The Taliban has agreed to a seven-day reduction in violence to start on an unspecified date, US officials announced February 13.
Ghorian District is situated 60km west of Herat city on the border with Iran. The region has witnessed insecurity and bloody clashes between security forces and the Taliban in recent years.
"Our demand for the parties involved in the conflict -- especially the Taliban -- is to agree to a ceasefire so that the situation for a lasting peace becomes possible," Haidari said.
Neighbouring countries are playing a major role in the conflict in Afghanistan, he said, adding that they should co-operate with the Afghan people and its government to bring peace instead of disrupting the peace process.
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has long provided financial, logistical and military support to militias and terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, and has recruited tens of thousands of Afghans for the Fatemiyoun Division, a militia tasked with fighting in Syria for President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Maruf Sharifi, a resident of Zindajan District, called on regional countries to stay out of the conflict so that Afghanistan can move toward peace.
"Our request for neighbouring countries is to not further fuel the conflict in Afghanistan and to allow Afghans to decide their future themselves," he said.
If neighbouring countries do not interfere, the Taliban will accept the peace process and will be able to live an ordinary life with other Afghans, he added.
"With progress in the peace talks in Qatar and a reduction in violence by the Taliban, this is the best chance for peace in the country," Sharifi said. "The Taliban and the government should not waste time. This golden opportunity should not be missed."
The rally comes as the United States continues to seek a deal with the Taliban that would allow it to withdraw troops in return for various security guarantees and a promise that the militants would hold peace talks with the Afghan government.
Washington's peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, Monday (February 17) said that he was "cautiously optimistic" about progress toward an eventual deal, adding that the United States has "commitments from the Talibs on security issues".
Once the deal is reached, the Afghan government under President Ashraf Ghani would have to prepare to meet the Taliban and negotiate a formal peace agreement on behalf of the Afghan people.
Peace: 'the hope of all Afghans'
Afghans are fed up with the war and now is the time for to strive for a permanent peace in the country, said Yadullah Poya, a civil society activist from Ghorian District, at the rally.
"I have not seen anything but war in my 40 years of life. Peace has always been my hope and the hope of all Afghans," he said.
War has destroyed Afghanistan on every level, and while other countries have made great progress in terms of growth and education, Afghanistan has remained behind because of the conflict, Poya added.
"Peace is a human necessity. The majority of war-affected countries have had to eventually make peace," he said. "The opportunity for peace in Afghanistan has become available after four decades of conflict, and parties involved in the conflict have no other option but to accept peace."
The time is right to end the violence once and for all, said Mohammad Naser Nekzada, a civil society activist from Kohsan District.
"Our demand for the Taliban, the Afghan government and the international community is to declare a ceasefire and ensure a nationwide and lasting peace in the country," he said.
Peace should not be limited to talks but should translate into a reality as soon as possible so that no other innocent civilians lose their lives, Nekzada added.
"Innocent civilians including women and children lose their lives in the war across the country on a daily basis," he said. "This massacre must stop."
An illegitimate war that must end
The war in Afghanistan is illegitimate, said religious scholars at the rally who called on the parties to the conflict to put an end to the fighting.
While Afghans are the victims of the war, neighbouring and regional countries are benefitting from the conflict, they explained.
"If the government and the Taliban are really Muslims, they should then stop this war and respond positively to the demands of the people for peace," said Mawlawi Mohammad Zahir, a religious scholar in Ghorian District.
The war kills innocent Muslims, including Afghan youth, and Islam is against this violence, he said.
"My message to the Taliban is that for the sake of God and the Koran, please do not kill any more children of Islam," he said, adding that Islam does not allow the militants to kill Afghan soldiers.
"These soldiers work day and night to defend their country and earn a living for their families. They should not be killed," Zahir emphasised. "Security forces are the sons of this country. They are Muslims born to Muslim parents. Killing members of the security forces is an anti-Islamic act."
The Islamic religion orders Muslims to make peace, said Mawlawi Taib Akhundzada, another religious scholar in Ghorian District.
"War between Muslims is condemned," he said. "It benefits only enemies of Islam. Both the Taliban and security forces are Muslims -- they should not kill each other."
"The opportunity for peace has arrived. I call on all parties to the conflict: for the sake of God, please end this conflict."