LAGHMAN -- More than 600 residents of Laghman Province, including Afghans who have been maimed by Taliban terrorist acts, gathered Monday (October 19) to denounce the militant group for escalating violence as peace efforts are underway.
The participants rallied in Mehtarlam, Laghman Province, and demanded that the Taliban declare a ceasefire even as they said it has become obvious that the group is not committed to establishing peace.
The insurgent outfit has recently stepped up attacks in Afghanistan as the Afghan government and the Taliban continue talks in Doha, Qatar, to end decades of war.
Tens of thousands of residents of Helmand Province fled their homes following days of heavy fighting between the Taliban and security forces, officials said on October 14. The clashes prompted the United States to call in air strikes to defend Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF).
Meanwhile, a car bombing on October 18 near police headquarters in Firoz Koh, Ghor Province, left 16 people dead and 154 wounded, AFP reported. Five children, nine women and 26 members of the security forces were among the wounded.
No group has claimed responsibility, but local residents blamed the Taliban.
In a speech at the gathering, Shahzada Mazlumyar, the deputy governor of Laghman, called on both negotiating parties in Qatar to listen to the public and to take advantage of this opportunity for lasting peace.
Laghman tribal elders, religious scholars and members of parliament will form a joint committee for peace and will meet with members of the Taliban, added other speakers at the rally.
Haji Shahmard Khan, chairman of the tribal and community council of Qarghayi District, asked the parties to the conflict to immediately declare a ceasefire and called on the Taliban to have mercy on civilians and to stop destroying their own homeland.
"The Taliban are engaged in fighting in Helmand that forced tens of thousands of residents to leave their homes," he told participants at the gathering. "All this happened because the Taliban launched the offensive."
"On one hand they are engaged in peace talks, but on the other hand, they have increased violence," he added.
"We have become tired and frustrated, and our children have been deprived of an education. There aren't any hospitals [we can reach], and our women give birth at home. This is playing games with our lives."
Violence 'isn't the solution'
"I tell the Taliban that they need to fear God and the Koran," Khan said. "If they are real Muslims and religious scholars, their option is to make peace, as peace is necessary. Look at this hall; it is full of people. They all have come here seeking peace, and we want peace."
Peace is the only option for Afghanistan, said Gulmarjan Niazi, who lost one of his eyes in the war.
"I wish there wasn't a war because I [would be able to] see you with both my eyes," he said. "I now live with a disability, and I am a victim of these 18 years of war."
"If the Taliban have achieved anything in the past 18 years, they should tell us what it is; otherwise, they need make peace as the war is benefiting only others," added Gulmarjan.
"On one hand you're [the Taliban] sitting at the negotiating table, and on the other hand you're driving civilians out of their homes in Helmand, and perpetrating car bombings in Laghman and killing civilians in Ghani Khel, Nangarhar," he said.
"This isn't the solution. Peace and a ceasefire are a solution."
Toorjan Sahak, a tribal elder in Laghman, also spoke at the gathering and condemned the recent Taliban attacks.
"We're very tired as the war has ruined us and as we can't tolerate this any longer," said Sahak. "If you call it jihad or whatever, we've had enough. The international forces are leaving, so why are you killing your brothers?"