KANDAHAR -- The Taliban's war is against all Islamic and Afghan values, religious scholars in southwestern Afghanistan say, calling on the Taliban to stop killing Muslims.
"The war in Afghanistan is illegitimate from the viewpoint of Islam -- and from every other aspect," said Qari Sebghatullah Noorani, 53, a religious scholar in Lashkargah, Helmand Province.
"The Taliban fight to achieve other countries' interests and take over power," he said. "Listen, they signed a peace agreement with the United States while they continue killing Afghans. Is this acceptable logic?"
"The Taliban continue fighting in Helmand for the interests of some foreign intelligence networks, especially that of Iran," Noorani said.
"I call on the Taliban again to stop oppressing Afghans for God's sake," he said. "They should stop killing our sisters and brothers. This nation is tired of them and can't continue to tolerate this situation."
Mawlawi Mohammad Asghar Afghan, a religious scholar in Zabul Province, called the current war a "disaster" for Afghans.
"I swear to Allah that the Taliban don't fight for the religion and Sharia," he said. "They are fighting to achieve the goals of the terrorist and brutal Iranian government in our country."
"I call on the Taliban who fight on the front line to stop killing these oppressed and deprived Afghans," he said. "Your war is illegitimate."
Uptick in civilian casualties
There has been an increase in Taliban violence against civilians in southwestern Afghanistan after the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) defeated the militant group in face-to-face combat, local residents say.
"The Taliban, who are criminals and robbers, are responsible for all the miseries and shameful acts," said Sardar Muhammad Gharani, 73, a resident of Qalat, Zabul Province.
"The Taliban are either directly or indirectly involved in the killing of civilians wherever it happens," he said. "The Taliban take refuge in people's homes by the force of their weapons, and then they launch attacks on our brave security forces from those homes and villages."
During Ramadan, on May 10, a van full of civilian passengers hit a roadside improvised explosive device (IED) planted by the Taliban, Gharani said.
"Unfortunately, nine civilians including women, children and men were martyred and five more injured in the incident," he said. "What could be a bigger crime than this one? The Taliban's entire war is filled with enmity toward Islam and humanity, and no Afghan will ever forgive them."
Abdul Samad Akhundzada, a tribal elder in Uruzgan Province, also blamed the Taliban for civilian casualties.
More than 100 civilians have been killed or wounded in Deh Rahwood, Chora, Charchino and Khas Uruzgan districts and in Tirin Kot, Uruzgan Province, over the past year, he said.
"Residents of Uruzgan have lived in hardship and oppression for the past five years," he added. "The Taliban dragged civilians out of their homes in Khas Uruzgan and Charchino districts and in Tirin Kot city [and] turned the homes into their bases from which they fought with the security forces."
"Many villages and orchards have been destroyed in these areas because the Taliban used them as their bases," Akhundzada said. "More than 1,000 families have been displaced."
He called on the ANDSF to step up military pressure on the Taliban.
"The Taliban target only the innocent and poor civilians because they [the Taliban] have been defeated in direct fighting with the security forces," said Muhammad Rahim, 33, a resident of Police District 2 of Kandahar city.
"I tell our Taliban brothers that the security forces and civilians who are killed here are all Afghans," he said. "They should stop killing Afghans. This will help them see prosperity and growth in their country."
"I hope they join the peace process," Rahim said.
Victims of Taliban's bombs plead for mercy
Naser, 11, a resident of Maiwand District of Kandahar, lost a leg when the car he was travelling in passed over a roadside bomb planted by the Taliban.
"Three months ago, when I was on my way to my uncle's house in Khakhan village in Maiwand District, I was blown up by a mine near his home," he said on June 24.
"I lost one of my legs and sustained injuries in other parts of my body," the 4th grader said. "I now receive treatment at Mirwais Hospital [in Kandahar city]."
Remarkably, Naser has remained hopeful for the future.
"I'm not hopeless in life, as I hope I will soon recover, but I call on the Taliban and other groups not to target civilians like me," he said. "They should have mercy on us for our future. They should let us get an education so that we can build the future of our country."
Aminullah, 13, a resident of Uruzgan, is receiving treatment at Mirwais Hospital too.
"I was playing with my friends at a park in Kalacha village, Tirin Kot, when a mine exploded," he said. "Three children including me were injured. The other kids have recovered, but I became disabled. I lost one of my arms."
"I will never forget this incident," he said.
"Please have mercy on us," said Aminullah, addressing the Taliban. "Don't make us orphans. Don't kill us as we didn't do anything wrong. We are innocent."