HERAT -- More than 1,000 Afghans from Herat, Farah, Ghor, Badghis, Kandahar and Helmand provinces gathered in Herat city to declare their support for peace talks with the Taliban, urging both sides to take advantage of the historic opportunity.
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 Afghan people expect the Afghan government, the Taliban, regional countries and the international community to not allow this golden and historical opportunity to be missed," said Mohammad Malang Borhani, a resident of Herat city who attended the gathering on September 15.
"The international community, which has been beside the Afghan people for the last 20 years, must monitor the peace process and pressure the negotiating parties to reach an agreement," he said
If the peace talks fail, the conflict in the country will last for decades and Afghans will pay a huge price, Borhani added.
"Our demand for the Taliban and the Afghan government is to declare a ceasefire as soon as possible as war is a catastrophe that takes sacrifices from both sides," said Mohammad Naser Hafizi, a resident of Ghor Province.
Hopes are high that these talks will bear fruit and end the 40-year conflict in Afghanistan, he said.
"We do not want the war to continue any longer. This historic opportunity must be seized to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan," he added. "Afghans cannot tolerate bloodshed and massacres anymore."
Afghans are optimistic that these talks will succeed while preserving the achievements of the past two decades, said Sayed Subhan Rastgar, a civil society activist from Herat city.
"Our demand for both negotiating sides is not to compromise the basic rights of Afghans, civil liberties, human rights, women's rights, the rights of minorities, and democracy that have been achieved at the cost of Afghan blood in the past 18 years," Rastgar said.
Any peace that is not based on the popular will eventually will fail, he added.
Calls for an immediate ceasefire
Participants of the gathering called on the government and the Taliban to declare a ceasefire as soon as possible.
Afghans want live in peace, said Jalil Ahmad Safeer, who represented Kandahar Province at the rally.
"Afghans are raising their voices for an immediate ceasefire so that all parties in the negotiations can hear them, as this will pave the way for permanent peace in the country," he said. "They are tired of this war and bloodshed and want all parties to live in peace."
Under these circumstances, a ceasefire is the best option and can help the peace process succeed, he added.
To advance the peace negotiations in a friendly and trustful environment, the Afghan government and the Taliban should declare a ceasefire, said Gulsoom Sediqi, a civil society activist in Herat city.
"War does not end at once -- first, involved parties must agree on a ceasefire so that an environment for a permanent end to war... is ready," she said.
While Afghans do not expect permanent results soon from the talks, they do expect a ceasefire, she added.
The peace talks in Doha should not continue while dozens of Afghans lose their lives on the battlefield every day in Afghanistan, said Tariq Sayedi, a professor at Herat University.
"If the peace negotiators believe in peace, they must first agree to a ceasefire on the battlefield and not to forget about justice or preservation of the achievements of Afghanistan at the negotiating table," he said.
A ceasefire is the only way for the peace talks to succeed and to prevent further bloodshed, Sayedi added.
Peace in Islam
Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are a religious necessity, emphasised religious scholars from the seven western and southwestern provinces.
Based on the commands of God and the prophet of Islam, the Taliban and the Afghan government are obliged to make peace and end the war as soon as possible, said Mawlawi Abdul Hamid, a religious scholar from Ghorian District, Herat Province.
"Almighty God has said in the Holy Koran that Muslims are each other's brother," he said.
Continuing the war does not have any justification as it has brought nothing but destruction, killings, poverty and illiteracy, he added.
"Our expectation for the Taliban and the Afghan government is to have tolerance toward each other and respect the public's rightful demands," Hamid said.
"For the public to have more confidence in the peace talks, parties to the negotiations must first declare a ceasefire."
Peace is a religious obligation for all Muslims, said Mawlawi Abdul Baqi Saqib, a religious scholar from Herat city.
"The Holy Koran instructs Muslims to make peace with each other. Avoid conflicts and arguments so that you can live in peace," he said.
"Almighty God has ordered Muslims many times to make peace," he added. "If both the Taliban and the Afghan government claim to be Muslims, they must put their personal differences aside and follow their religious and national objectives."