HERAT -- The role of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) should be preserved as the Taliban and Afghan government continue peace talks, say Herat Province residents.
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, former Taliban chief negotiator who now serves as deputy chief of the Taliban's political office in Doha, said in an interview last year with pro-Taliban news website Nunn.asia that the ANDSF would be dissolved.
Stanekzai later took back his words, but Herat residents want to be sure that that fate of the ANDSF does not enter into negotiations in Doha, where the Afghan government and the Taliban are engaged in slow-moving peace talks.
Almost 1,000 residents of Herat Province gathered October 11 at Mawlana Jalaluddin Mohammad Balkhi Hall in the provincial capital to express their support for the ANDSF.
The development and dignity of Afghanistan have been earned over the past two decades with the sacrifices of the security forces, they said.
The ANDSF have always defended the people and the country and contained the terrorists by putting their lives in danger, said Omaid Haqjo, a resident of Herat city.
"We strongly support our security forces, and [preserving] these forces is our red line in peace talks," he said. "We hope that the achievements of the security forces are not ignored during peace talks."
Afghans will always support the security forces and they will never allow anyone to compromise on the fate of the ANDSF, who are the defenders and champions of the Afghan people, Haqjo said.
The ANDSF have been engaged in fighting against terrorists on the front lines of war and put their lives in danger defending the country and people, said Parwana Hamidi, a resident of Herat city.
Afghans will never forget the sacrifices of the security forces, she said. "We want peace, and the war has to stop so that our security forces don't continue to lose their lives."
"[Keeping] the security forces is our red line in peace talks, and no deal can be made on their fate," Hamidi said. "We don't want to go backward and won't allow our security forces to be dissolved."
The Afghan government should not have any flexibility with regards to the fate of the security forces, said Omaid Naab, a civil society activist in Herat city.
"The security forces are a national treasure of Afghans, and no one has the right to decide on their fate," he said.
Stronger than ever
The ANDSF -- especially the Special Forces of the Afghan National Army (ANA), National Police and National Directorate of Security Forces (NDS) -- have become so much stronger in recent years that no enemy has the ability to engage them in direct fighting, former military officers say.
The US military and NATO forces have helped with training and equipping the ANDSF for nearly two decades and spent billions of dollars, and they will never abandon these forces, said Maj. Gen. (ret.) Zahir Azimi, former spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence.
"It is a meaningless concern that the security forces will be dissolved because such a thing will never happen, and it won't be allowed," he said. "The dissolution of the security forces has never been raised by the Taliban during the peace negotiations."
"The capacity and capability of the security forces, especially of the National Army, Commandos and Special Forces, have reached the level that even if anyone wants to dissolve them, he [or she] won't be able to," he said.
"The US military provided four Super Tucano helicopters to the Afghan security forces a few weeks ago, sending a message to the Taliban that the international community, especially the United States, continues to support the Afghan forces," Azimi said.
The Afghan government will remain intact, and the Taliban will join this government, US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said during an interview with TOLOnews on October 7.
The Afghan people and the international community support the ANDSF, and every ill intention towards the security forces will be defeated, said Mahdi Hadid, a member of the Herat Provincial Council.
"Our people have supported the security forces with all their strength, and they will continue to do so," he said. "In the absence of police, ANA and NDS forces, Afghanistan would again turn into a safe haven for terrorists, and civilians would be the only ones to suffer the harsh conditions and dark days."
"The security institutions are not involved in politics, and they have no role in political deals, but they do have a key role in protecting the country and people from domestic and foreign terrorist groups," he said. "Afghans will never let their forces face [political] challenges."
The ANDSF have sufficiently improved their skills and capacity, and they are now able to defend Afghanistan and fight against the terrorist groups by themselves, Hadid said.
'Down with the war'
Meanwhile, more than 500 residents and religious scholars held a separate demonstration October 11 in Herat city to call on the Taliban and the government to declare a ceasefire and continue peace talks as soon as possible.
During the demonstration they buried a coffin with "down with the war" inscribed on it.
A similar demonstration took place October 10 in Jalalabad, Nangarhar Province.
"We ask the Taliban to raise all their demands with the government delegation and join the peace talks by declaring a ceasefire," said Farkhunda Haqpal, a civil society activist in Herat city. "Peace talks don't have any meaning when the war and bloodshed continue."
The killing of innocent Aghans must stop, and the Taliban should no longer launch attacks on cities and districts because civilians bear the brunt of the violence, she said.
"Civilians have no patience for the war and unrest to continue, and they're tired," said Maulawi Muhammad Rahim, a religious scholar in Herat city. "The Taliban and government have to agree on a ceasefire as soon as possible."
"We ask the Taliban and government to show patience and flexibility with each other and stop being rigid," he said. "If both parties exercise flexibility and listen to the demands of the nation, we will soon witness peace and a ceasefire."
The Taliban's war is nothing but a crime, he said, adding that the war has ruined the lives, economy and security of all Afghans and that its continuation is in no one's interest.
"The presence of the government and Taliban delegations in Qatar has created hope for bringing peace and an end to the war in Afghanistan, but if these talks cease, it will disappoint Afghans about their future," said Shair Ahmad Ahmadyar, a civil society activist in Herat city.
"The peace talks in Qatar are a golden opportunity in the country's history that shouldn't be missed."
The Afghan people call for a ceasefire and preservation of the two decades of achievements, and they hope that peace talks produce an outcome that can put an end to 40 years of war, he said.