JALALABAD -- About 150 women rallied on Wednesday (September 16) in Nangarhar Province to call on the government and the Taliban to declare a ceasefire and prevent more bloodshed amid fresh fighting in the region.
Women whose children were killed and injured during the past two decades of war were among those who participated in the rally.
"My hair has turned grey, but the war hasn't ended," said Habiba, 60, a resident of Surkh Rod District who attended the gathering in Jalalabad. "Now that talks are going on with the Taliban, I want the war to end. My son was martyred in this war. I lost my other relatives as well. I'm exhausted."
"When I tune in to radio and get the news of killings in every province, I turn it off," said Habiba. "Ever since the peace talks started, I ask my son every evening to turn on the radio to know how the talks are proceeding. I am happy that these talks are under way. I hope the war ends and that a ceasefire is declared."
The government and the Taliban are in the early stages of meetings in Doha, Qatar, in an effort to hammer out a deal that would end the war in Afghanistan.
"The purpose of our gathering here is to call for an end to this war," said Sana Noori, an organiser of the rally and deputy director of the Afghanistan Women's Empowerment Programme.
"Our first demand is that a ceasefire needs to be reached at these intra-Afghan peace talks," she said. "We call for a ceasefire before everything else. They have been sitting at one table there [in Doha], but the fighting continues here."
"They first need to agree on a ceasefire before they continue their talks so that the bloodshed stops in this country and people return to a normal life."
"There is no family that hasn't suffered from the war," said Noori. "We want women's achievements of the past 18 years to be preserved, and it should be ensured that they enjoy their right to work and education."
"We don't want to be confined to our homes or our right to work and an education to be restricted," she added. "We ask the Taliban to remain committed to women's rights and freedom of speech as practiced by the rest of the world."
Fareshta Ashraf, a young participant of the rally who was carrying a placard that read "We want peace," called on the Taliban to stop fighting and respect women's right to an education.
"I am 14 years old -- I'm a child, but I have come here to call for peace," she said. "I want our generation to live in peace. My mother and father, who now are old, grew up in war. The Taliban should have mercy on us -- the new generation -- and declare a ceasefire that can allow for a permanent peace."
"Everyone in my family is educated, and my sisters work in offices and schools," said Fareshta. "I want to become a teacher so that I can teach other girls. I don't want to stay at home and live like the blind."
"I want freedom. Any government that takes over in the future should not restrict our freedom."
The gathering in Jalalabad city came a day before fierce fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban that claimed the lives of at least 11 security personnel in Nangarhar Province on Thursday (September 17).
Overnight clashes erupted in three districts of the province when Taliban fighters attacked several checkpoints of Afghan forces and pro-government militiamen, Ataullah Khogyani, spokesman for the Nangarhar governor, told AFP.
He said at least 11 Afghan security personnel were killed in fighting in Hesarak, while eight pro-government militiamen were killed in Khogyani.
About 30 Taliban fighters died in the clashes, including some foreigners, Khogyani said.
On Tuesday (September 15) evening, a Taliban attack on a checkpoint in Dasht-i-Archi District, Kunduz Province, left eight security personnel dead and three injured.
The Taliban has not commented on either incident.
Acting Defence Minister Asadullah Khalid blamed the Taliban for the fighting.
"There have been no attacks from our side... The enemies continue to attack and spill the blood of Afghans," he said at a ceremony where US forces handed over four A-29 Super Tucano aircraft to the Afghan military.
Khalid expressed hope for the success of the peace talks but warned the Taliban against using force to achieve their goals, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported September 17.
"If the enemy is thinking that it can conquer everything by force, it is a dream, it is a fantasy, it is impossible and it is madness," he said.
Calls for ceasefire go unheeded
In his speech at the opening session of the peace talks on September 12, High Council for National Reconciliation Chairman Abdullah Abdullah called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, but his plea has gone unanswered.
The Afghan government's calls for a ceasefire have been echoed by Afghanistan's allies and Afghans from all sectors of society.
More than 100 orphaned and impoverished children -- many of whom have lost family members in Taliban attacks -- gathered at a Kunduz orphanage on September 15 to call on both the Afghan government and the militants to declare an immediate ceasefire.
More than 15,000 women in 15 provinces have signed a letter addressed to the United Nations saying they want to be part of the peace process and are determined defend their rights.
The women are urging the Taliban to declare a permanent ceasefire as they begin the negotiations, Salima Haidari, a women's rights activist in Kunduz Province, said at a gathering September 9.
On September 7, about 100 Herat residents gathered at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission office in Herat to voice their demands for peace.
Separately, on the same day, during a gathering in Firoz Koh, dozens of Ghor residents urged the Taliban and the government to declare a ceasefire.
The Taliban have long worried that reducing violence could lessen their leverage but have agreed to two temporary ceasefires this year.
[Khalid Zerai from Jalalabad contributed to this article.]