HERAT -- Members of a civilian peace movement rallied with citizens in 20 provinces over the past week to call on the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire amid a surge in violence by the militant group.
The People's Peace Movement, a group of Afghans who have been demonstrating for peace since 2018, began a new round of gatherings following escalations in Taliban violence and civilian casualties across the country.
On July 9, the People's Peace Movement gathered with residents of Herat Province in Herat city to condemn the violent campaign of the Taliban.
Participants demanded that all sides involved in the conflict, especially the Taliban, to reduce violence, agree to a ceasefire as soon as possible and launch intra-Afghan talks, said Bismillah Watandost, a spokesman for the movement.
"The Taliban and the US had agreed in Qatar to reduce violence, end the war and start intra-Afghan talks immediately," he said. "Unfortunately, while peace talks are ongoing, terrorist and suicide attacks are happening on a daily basis, leaving violence unabated."
The Taliban continue to kill civilians and security forces, he added.
"Thousands of members of the People's Peace Movement call on the international community, NATO, the US, and the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation for their assistance in ending the war," he said.
"There is no reason the conflict should continue, and the war no longer has any meaning," Watandost said.
The people have had enough of the war that has resulted in the killing of Afghans for years and it must end immediately, said Malang Shah Haidari, a member of the People's Peace Movement from Herat.
"We urge the international community and the US, who are involved in the peace process, to help Afghanistan achieve lasting peace and save Afghans from this imposed war," he added.
'Peace is the hope of every Afghan'
The goal of the Taliban and other anti-government armed groups has been to shed the blood of Afghans and now is the time to end the killing of innocent Afghans, said Lal Mohammad Fazli, a Kandahar resident who participated in the Herat city rally.
"Once you make peace with the US, you have no excuse for war and no logical or rational reason for it to continue," he said. "Parties to the conflict should stop pursuing their personal interests and show some flexibility in resolving their differences."
"My plea to the Taliban is to free themselves from the shackles of [neighbouring countries] and end this imposed war," Fazli said.
Even though the peace talks continue, violence has intensified, which is not acceptable to the people of Afghanistan, said Mohammad Basir Quraishi, a member of the People's Peace Movement from Paktika Province.
"The Taliban's excuse for fighting was to get foreign forces to withdraw, which they were using to justify the killing of civilians and security forces. But now that they have a peace agreement with the US, why do they continue killing Afghans?" he asked. "The Taliban do not have an answer to my question."
Afghan security forces have maintained an active defense posture while demonstrating great restraint, indicating the Afghan government's pro-peace policies, said Herat Governor Sayed Wahid Qatali.
"The Afghan government is determined to bring peace, and I can tell you that we will never back off on the battlefield, but we will also go forward with peace," he said at the rally in Herat. "The government has been respecting and supporting all elements needed to guarantee peace."
Violence and murder have no place in Islam, which stresses peace and forbids Muslims from such acts, said Mawlawi Sayed Ahmed, a religious scholar from Ghor Province.
"The current war does not have any winner -- it is meaningless. The only solution to this war is a ceasefire and peace," he said. "Our demand for the parties involved in the conflict, especially the Taliban, is to end the war and instead choose the path of peace."
"This fratricide and bloodshed must end," he added. "The Taliban should come to the negotiating table and discuss their demands through peaceful means. It would be good if the Taliban would reach out for once so that they could see that everyone is tired of war and wants peace."
Graveyards full of civilians
Meanwhile, at a gathering in Kunduz city on July 8, dozens of Kunduz Province residents including tribal elders, people with disabilities and women also called on the Taliban to immediately stop their violent activities in the country and declare a ceasefire.
"Parties to the conflict should stop the violence, declare a full-fledged and permanent ceasefire and put an end to the bloodshed," said Abdul Satar Shamal, a member of the Kunduz Youth Parliament.
Afghans are fed up with the decades-long conflict, said Mirza Muhammad Laghmani, a tribal elder in Kunduz, at the rally.
"There has been war in Afghanistan for the past 40 years, and people can no longer tolerate it," he said.
"Every day we see that children of this land are being killed from both sides," he added. "The graveyards are full of civilians."
The incidents of violence perpetrated by the Taliban threaten the peace process, said Shahbaz Saberi, a civil society activist in Kunduz Province.
"If the Taliban don't stop their violence and war in Afghanistan, it will definitely damage the peace process," said Saberi.
Shirin Agha Safi, a tribal elder in Kunduz Province, also called for an end to the violence in Afghanistan.
"We call on the parties to the conflict to stop the war for the sake of the oppressed and defenseless people," Safi said.
"The Taliban think that they will benefit from intensifying violence during the peace talks, but people's lives shouldn't be put at further risk."
Crimes against humanity
Participants of the gathering in Kunduz condemned the civilian casualties caused by Taliban attacks.
Muhammad Omar Kunduzi, a member of a civilian protection group in Kunduz Province, labeled recent attacks by the Taliban as war crimes that violate the law of armed conflict.
"Civilian casualties have increased in the past two months, which are a serious concern," said Kunduzi.
"It is unfortunate that the number of civilian casualties ... has been increasing every day, which is considered a major crime against humanity," said Sayed Hafizullah Fitrat, director of the Independent Human Rights Commission in Kunduz Province.
In an incident on July 7, three civilians were shot to death by the Taliban in Aquli Mama village, Khwaja Ghar District, Takhar Province, said Fitrat, adding that these individuals were killed by a recently released Taliban fighter because they allegedly had ties with the government.
"The war is not ours," Abdul Jalil Ihsas, a resident of Kunduz Province, said at the rally. "But peace is relevant to the future of Afghan people and parties to the conflict should agree on a ceasefire."
"The Taliban should prove they are Afghans, independent, committed to their country, and that they believe in the peace process," he said.