KUNDUZ -- A group of 31 Taliban fighters surrendered to the Afghan government in Balkhab District, Sar-e-Pul Province, after being attacked by their former comrades for choosing to pursue peace, officials say.
The Taliban members defected to the army on May 27 after walking a long distance, said Mohammad Hanif Rezayee, a spokesman for the National Army's 209th Shaheen Corps in Mazar-e-Sharif city.
"This group of 31 [Taliban fighters] didn't want to continue fighting and insisted on extending the ceasefire," he said. "But after they realised that the Taliban don't believe in peace, they abandoned them.
"Qari Shafiqullah, Maulawi Fazlullah Bahawi and Abdul Qayoum are among the important team leaders of the Taliban who have surrendered," he said.
"They handed over 16 Kalashnikovs [AK-47s], five PK machine guns, three rocket launchers and other military equipment to the army," Rezayee added.
The surrendered Taliban fighters, all residents of Alarkchan village in Kohistanant District of Sar-e-Pul Province, left the area after four members of their group were killed in a battle with other Taliban members and travelled to Balkhab District where they laid down their arm to security forces, said Sayed Asadullah Danish, the deputy chairman of the Sar-e-Pul provincial council.
"There are factions among the Taliban. Some of them are in favour of peace, and some prefer fighting," he said.
"We expect the Taliban to deliver on the deal they agreed to in Qatar and stop killing," he added.
The United States and the Taliban signed a peace deal in February in Doha, Qatar. As part of the pact, the Afghan government and the militant group agreed to exchange some prisoners, which eventually led to a tenuous ceasefire.
While that truce officially ended May 26, violence has stayed relatively low despite sporadic attacks blamed on the Taliban.
The call for peace
Authorities and Afghan citizens call on the Taliban every day to renounce violence and declare a permanent ceasefire, said Farid Ahmadi, a civil society activist in Sar-e-Pul Province.
However, the group rejects these demands, showing it is not ready to lay down its weapons, he said.
"The Taliban fighters several times have launched attacks on government forces or planted roadside mines that have killed our innocent civilians," Ahmadi said.
"The Taliban take pleasure in killing, and therefore, they're indifferent to murdering innocent civilians," he added.
"At a time when we need to work together to fight the coronavirus, the situation necessitates a ceasefire, but this group rejects public demands," he said.
"It is clear that the Taliban won't agree to a ceasefire because they see their interests in war," said Zakia Ehsaas, a women's rights activist in Sar-e Pul Province.
"Security, stability and peace in Afghanistan are not a priority for the Taliban," she said. "If peace comes to Afghanistan, countries supporting terrorism see their interests at risk."
The Taliban have increased violence in the country, intentionally violating the terms of the peace agreement signed in Qatar so that they can mount pressure on the government and gain leverage in the peace process, Ehsaas said.
Balkhab District and other areas of Sar-e Pul province remain under the control of security forces and any remaining fighters will soon be cleared, said Ghulam Jilani Abubakar, the police chief of Sar-e-Pul Province.
"The Taliban are not active in Balkhab District, but they sometimes cause unrest in the neighbouring Kohistanant District," he said.
"We're planning to conduct clearance operations against the Taliban in the near future so that we can expel them from all vulnerable areas," he added.