KUNDUZ -- Religious scholars and tribal elders from Kunduz city and Kunduz Province's nine districts gathered on Wednesday (September 23) in Kunduz city to call on the Afghan government and the Taliban to reach a comprehensive peace agreement.
Taliban and Afghan government negotiators are meeting in Doha, Qatar, where they are trying to find a way to end decades of war.
Although Kabul has urged a ceasefire, the Taliban have yet to agree to one.
About 200 participants rallied at the meeting to demand an immediate end to the fighting and violence in the country and for the Taliban to respect the legitimate demands of the Afghan people and declare a ceasefire.
Afghans, who have suffered from war and destruction for the past 40 years, are looking forward to peace and an end to the war, said Azizullah Abdellahi, a Kunduz Province tribal elder, at the rally.
"A ceasefire is the first condition to move closer to peace," said Abdellahi. "Until the fighting stops, peace can't be achieved."
"In the past, when there was a war between two groups, the first thing needed to reach peace was the declaration of a ceasefire that would allow peace negotiators and independent observers to review the situation," he said. "So, when the war is going on, it definitely affects the peace process."
Mirza Muhammad Laghmani, another tribal elder at the gathering, echoed that sentiment.
"The escalation of violence makes us concerned for the future," he said. "On one hand peace talks are in progress, while at the same time violence continues."
"We will trust the peace process once a ceasefire is declared," said Laghmani. "If there is no ceasefire and fighting continues, it won't produce any positive outcome."
A golden opportunity
Afghans "have been suffering from war since the Soviet invasion", Mohammad Yusuf Ayubi, chairman of the Kunduz Provincial Council, said at the gathering. "Roads, schools and clinics are destroyed by mortars and tanks. Women become widows, children are orphaned, and our youth are martyred. How long will this continue?"
"A daily labourer builds a mud home for his family over 15 years, but it is mercilessly destroyed with mortars and tanks," said Ayubi. "Where can he get resources again to rebuild his mud home?"
"Men, women, the elderly and youth all cross their fingers every morning while asking God for peace," said Maulawi Muhammad Aqeel Sirat, chairman of the Kunduz Ulema Council.
"We want peace that can guarantee dignity, respect, honesty and righteousness," he added.
Violence and unrest damage the country's foundation, and now is the time for both parties to embrace one another with honesty and good intentions, said Sirat.
"A ceasefire should be implemented first, and then if it takes years for both parties to negotiate details of the future system and government, it won't matter," he noted.
Now is the best opportunity for both parties to make a maximum effort to find a peaceful solution, said Nooruddin Reshteen, a Kunduz Province civil society activist, at the rally.
"We haven't had such an opportunity in the past 20 years," said Reshteen. "If these talks don't produce any result, both parties will incur irreversible damage."
"We call on both parties -- who are children of this land -- to disregard their own personal interests, for God's sake, and not waste this golden opportunity," he said.
"Peace means an end to the war," said Najibullah Omarkhail, assistant governor of Kunduz for social and economic affairs. "We cannot wash off blood with blood."
"The war is not in our favour as it kills Afghans and destroys their homes and properties," he said. "So why shouldn't we resolve our problem through dialogue?"
"Muslims can't go to mosques for prayers out of fear, and if both negotiating parties miss this historic opportunity, Afghans won't have a pleasant future," said Omarkhail.
Children hopeful for peace
In addition to the gathering of tribal elders and religious scholars, a number of children gathered at the Kunduz Orphanage in the evening on Monday (September 21) to call on the Taliban to stop fighting and declare a ceasefire.
Children's biggest hope is for lasting peace and an end to the war in the country, said Sitara, 14, a student at the orphanage.
"The Taliban need to make peace with the government," said Sitara. "How long will this violence and bloodshed of our brothers continue in our country? We've had enough war."
Kunduz residents September 21 also gathered to light candles and fly kites for peace to celebrate the International Day of Peace.
The purpose behind the gathering was to promote a culture of peace and tolerance and show support for the intra-Afghan peace talks, said Abdul Shakoor Qadardan, director of the Kunduz office of the Afghan Information and Culture Ministry.