KUNDUZ -- The Taliban's shaky commitment to the peace agreement signed in late February with US negotiators as a step towards intra-Afghan dialogue is not deterring Kunduz residents who remain hopeful for lasting peace.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar signed the deal February 29 in Doha, Qatar.
But since then, the militants have ramped up violence against Afghan forces and civilians, casting doubt over peace talks between the Kabul government and the Taliban that were due to begin Tuesday (March 10).
A "long and hard" road to peace lies ahead, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told AFP on March 4. "It is a very difficult situation, and the Taliban must honour their commitment."
Hope for peace
Although the road to lasting peace in Afghanistan remains long and daunting, ordinary Afghans still yearn for a country free of the war that most have known their entire lives.
"We have seen hopes rise in Kunduz in the past 10 days because of improved security on the highway, restoration of 24-hour telecom services that were shut for two years, a drop in the [exchange] rate for dollars and a significant reduction in civilian casualties," said Abdul Naser Qayoumi, 60, a tribal elder in Kunduz.
About 500 Kunduz city residents, including religious scholars, tribal elders, civil society activists and youth, gathered on March 2 to declare their support for the peace agreement.
"Residents of this province have seen most of the losses caused by the war and unrest for a decade, and therefore, they support any progress or step toward peace," he said.
'No more war'
"We Afghans have been fed up with war," said Khan Muhammad Momand, a businessman in Kunduz. "We don't want war and the killing of our brothers, and we welcome the agreement signed in Qatar. We call on our politicians to put their differences aside and make efforts for peace."
The Taliban and the United States "should abide by the commitments they made in the agreement and make proper arrangements for intra-Afghan talks to begin", he added.
Maulawi Juma Khan, a religious scholar who attended the event, called on all parties to the conflict "to declare a permanent ceasefire".
"War and bloodshed between brothers are prohibited in Islam," he said. "The Afghan people have been shedding each other's blood for 40 years. Today, they have an opportunity to stop it."
"The Afghan people have been ruined. There should be no more war," he said.
Poverty, unemployment, unrest, the flight of youth from the country and the lack of access to services are just some of the negative consequences of the war, said Ghulam Rasool Asadi, a student in the education department of Kunduz University.
"Uzbek, Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and other tribes have come together here today to welcome the signing of the peace agreement, as peace is a priority for the Afghan people," he said at the March 2 gathering.
"We witnessed how much security and lives have positively changed in just one week of the reduction in violence," he said. "If there is no peace, there will be no improvement in security, development or rebuilding, and we won't see any growth or progress."
Healing Afghans' wounds
"The Afghan people hate the war, and they keep watching TV and listening to the radio every day to get updates on the progress of the peace talks," said Marzia Rustami, director of the Afghan Women's Network in Kunduz.
"Kunduz women ... call on the intra-Afghan negotiating delegation to do its best to preserve women's achievements of the past 20 years," she said.
Rohullah Amini, a 10th-grade student at Shair Khan High School, also expressed the hopes of the younger generation for a lasting peace.
"If peace comes to Afghanistan today, young Afghans will succeed in every sector," he said.
"In a place where peace is ensured, there will be [construction] projects, jobs and better lives."
Only peace can heal the wounds of war, said Abdul Salaam Saber, one of the disabled participants at the gathering.
"Millions lost their lives and thousands sustained injuries from years of war," he said. "The country needs a permanent peace. We want peace, and the war must stop."
"We say to the Taliban that if they can make peace with others, they have to make peace with the Afghan people and with our government as well because the war has ruined the Afghan people," he added.