HERAT -- Twenty-two Taliban fighters laid down their arms and joined the peace process in Badghis Province ahead of a three-day ceasefire during Eid ul Adha, which Afghans hope will lead to intra-Afghan peace talks and an end to the war.
The surrendered militants were involved in destructive activities in various parts of the province for the past six years, according to local officials.
The insurgents regret their actions and urge other Taliban fighters to join the peace process.
Mullah Esmatullah, a commander of the group who joined the peace process on July 27, said the war has taken everything from him and he no longer wants to fight against the government.
"I call on the Taliban to renounce violence and join the peace process," he said.
The Afghan government is a lawful and fair government, Esmatullah said, urging all Taliban fighters to surrender to the authorities with all their weapons.
"My message to all the Taliban is that committing violence, setting people's houses on fire and killing Afghans is not a solution, and they should join the peace process," said Muhammad Qasim, a former Taliban fighter who renounced violence.
"No one can win by killing civilians and it is better for the Taliban to join the peace process instead of committing violence and killing Afghans," he said.
"I had been involved in anti-government activities for a few years, during which I had a difficult life as I always was fearful of being killed at any moment," Qasim said. "Now that I have joined the peace process, I am happy because I am not worried that I could be killed. I will begin a peaceful life with my family."
Poised to begin intra-Afghan peace talks
The security situation in the province will improve with the surrender of these Taliban fighters, said Faiz Muhammad Mirzazada, acting governor of Badghis.
"The Afghan government is poised to begin intra-Afghan peace talks, and we welcome every member of the Taliban who recognises the government and renounces violence," he said.
The progress of the government and the Taliban toward peace talks has made many Taliban fighters hopeful for the peace process and they are abandoning the battlefields, he added.
The Taliban must understand that Afghanistan's crisis cannot be resolved militarily and that they will never succeed through fighting and killing more Afghans, said Maulawi Ali Muhammad Rahmani, a religious scholar in Qala-e-Naw, the provincial capital.
"I call on all Taliban who fight the government to form an inclusive government and rescue Afghans who are stuck in war, poverty and desperation," he said.
The Taliban should renounce violence and stand with their people and choose a peaceful and nonviolent way of life, Rahmani said.
The Taliban fighters' decision to lay down their weapons as intra-Afghan talks are set to begin in the near future is promising, said Mohammad Naser Nazari, a member of the Badghis Provincial Council.
"As we get closer to peace talks, it is better that all the Taliban fighters give up on fighting and stand with the Afghan people," he said. "The Taliban should share their demands with the public and the Afghan government and try to arrive at a solution through national processes -- not through brutality and bloodshed."
As Taliban fighters join the peace process, it will strengthen the morale of the security forces, he added.
"The level of violence will decrease if the Taliban renounce violence and put their weapons on the ground," Nazari said.
Taliban violence threatens 'historic opportunity' for peace
The ceasefire is slated to last for the duration of Eid ul Adha -- from Friday (July 31) to Sunday (August 2) -- and is only the third official truce in almost 19 years of war.
After two previous truces -- during Eid ul Fitr in 2018 and May this year -- the Taliban immediately returned to the battlefield.
President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban have both signalled that peace talks could begin immediately after Eid, and there are widespread calls for the warring parties to extend the ceasefire.
The Taliban's actions have remained the main cause behind civilian casualties in Afghanistan, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a report released July 27.
Almost 1,300 civilians were killed in the first half of 2020, the report said.
A majority of civilian casualties -- 58% -- were caused by anti-government elements, with the Taliban responsible for 1,473 casualties (850 deaths and 793 injuries), which constitute 43% of the total civilian casualties between January 1 and June 30, 2020, the report said.
A July 14 report from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission also showed that the Taliban were responsible for more than half of civilian casualties in Afghanistan.
"At a time when the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban have a historic opportunity to come together at the negotiating table for peace talks, the tragic reality is that the fighting continues, inflicting terrible harm to civilians every day," said Deborah Lyons, the UN chief's special representative for Afghanistan.