HERAT -- Dozens of Herat residents gathered with members of the National Peace Movement (NPM) in Herat city on Saturday (August 29) to demand that the Afghan government and the Taliban start peace talks as soon as possible.
The group is different from the People's Peace Movement.
Members of the NPM staged a sit-in in front of the governor's office in Herat city and insisted that they will continue their protests until peace talks begin.
The goal behind the sit-in is to urge the Afghan people to take a more prominent role in the talks and ensure that obstacles to the peace process are removed, said Muhammad Ismail Barak, director of the NPM in the western region.
"We demand that the international community, the government and the Taliban first declare a ceasefire and then commence intra-Afghan peace talks and create a platform for putting an end to the war," he said.
Afghans across the country are awaiting the announcement of the start of negotiations after Afghan authorities said on August 14 they had started to release 400 Taliban prisoners, the final hurdle in long-delayed peace talks between the two warring sides.
The release of those 400 militants was approved on August 9 by a loya jirga, and the government and the Taliban were expected to meet within days of the prisoner release.
"The Afghan government should implement the decision of the [consultative] loya jirga with regards to the release of Taliban prisoners, and the Taliban should also show readiness for the discussions and begin intra-Afghan peace talks," said Barak.
"We'll continue to hold sit-ins and protests until a ceasefire is declared and intra-Afghan peace talks commence."
Sit-ins will take place in 15 provinces over the coming days, and the protests will continue "until our demands are considered", said Barak.
The movement began in Herat and will expand to Nimroz, Farah, Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul, Khost, Nangarhar, Paktia, Logar, Balkh, Kunduz, Takhar and Jawzjan provinces, he said.
Demands for a ceasefire
Innocent civilians, security personnel and Taliban fighters are losing their lives everyday in the war, which serves no purpose, said participants at the Herat city rally.
The situation is not tenable as soldiers of the Afghan National Army and the National Directorate of Security (NDS) are being killed and injured every day, said Dost Muhammad, a member of the NPM.
"We expect the Taliban to declare a ceasefire so that the country can have stability, and then they should begin peace talks," he added. "The war has ruined our country."
"The government needs to release the remaining prisoners so that an opportunity for peace talks can be created," he said. "All the country's budget is spent on war, and the absence of war can create an opportunity for Afghanistan's development and rehabilitation, as well as improve lives."
Afghans are fed up with the war and parties to the conflict first need to agree on a ceasefire to put an end to the war and ensure peace, said Ghulam Yahya Hamidi, a Herat city resident.
"I call on both parties to the conflict -- the government and the Taliban -- to declare a ceasefire and then commence peace talks to seek peaceful solutions for ending the war," he said.
Hundreds of thousands of innocent Afghans lost their lives during the past four decades of war, and the country's economy has been destroyed; therefore, the opportunity in front of Afghans needs to be used to bring sustainable peace, said Hamidi.
The killing of Muslims is prohibited in Islam, and parties to the conflict, especially the Taliban, should renounce this illegitimate war, said Maulawi Sayed Muhammad Qassim, a religious scholar in Herat city.
"Verses of the Holy Koran and sayings of the prophet of Islam clearly mention that no Muslim has the right to kill or hurt a fellow Muslim," he said. "The victims of the war are only Afghans and Muslims, and this war has no religious justification."
Earlier at a war and peace exhibition held on August 27 at Qala Iktyaruddin in Herat city, visitors called for the preservation of Afghans' achievements in the past two decades -- especially those of women -- in the peace talks with the Taliban.
Dozens of photos at the exhibition showing the destruction caused by war presented a contrast with others representing aspects of peace. The exhibition was open to the public for three days.
"It is a great development that the Taliban are seeking to make peace and return to society, but they shouldn't restrict women's and girls' activities as they did in the past," said Palwash Shiwani, a resident of Herat city.
"Women and girls constitute half of society, and they need to work and get an education and make a greater contribution to Afghanistan's prosperity," she said. "The Taliban need to change their mentality and accept Afghan society's current realities."
The Afghan people have been at war for many years, and everyone's hope is to see peace, and now Afghans are closer to realising it, said Aasia Popalzai, a 10th-grade student at Hewad High School in Herat city.
"The Afghan people have had many achievements in recent years despite the war," she said. "If the Taliban plan to destroy human achievements -- especially those of women and girls -- in exchange for peace, they will never be granted such an opportunity."
"The Taliban need to help Afghans achieve their hope for peace and stability, and they should renounce violence and bloodshed," she added.
"They don't have the right to impose restrictions on civilians. Afghanistan is no longer the country of 20 years ago when the Taliban could do whatever they wished."