KANDAHAR -- Afghan citizens are calling on the Taliban and the Afghan government not to compromise the nation's achievements of the past 20 years during peace talks.
Negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban started in Doha, Qatar, last month, though increasing Taliban violence has been threatening the talks.
"Now is the time for the Afghan government and militant Taliban to stop violence, start intra-Afghan negotiations and reach a political settlement through talks so that the bloodshed in the country is ended," said Mohammad Ismail Zabuli, a tribal elder in Zabul Province.
"One of the most important things during the intra-Afghan talks is preserving the current system... Our army, police and National Directorate of Security (NDS) personnel must continue their work and must not be dissolved," he said.
"If the Taliban want to join [the government], they should be absorbed into the security forces after providing credible guarantees. We all support the current system, the republic and democracy where every Afghan has the right to vote," said Zabuli.
"Afghans are tired of war and hungry for peace. We do not want to return to the 1980s and 1990s and lose everything again," Zabuli added. "The current system has reached this point with the cost of the blood of Afghans, and it must be maintained so that one day Afghanistan can compete with other countries in science, technology, etc."
Mohammad Rahim Khan, a Kuchi leader in Kandahar Province, called for an agreement with the Taliban that protects the rights of all Afghans.
"Hundreds of thousands of Afghans sacrificed their lives in the last 19 years so that we could have an independent and strong government," Khan said.
"Now that the peace talks have started, there shouldn't be any restrictions on fundamental rights such as human rights, freedom of speech, and democracy. All parties must respect these rights of Afghans," he said.
"All Afghans want a peaceful Afghanistan in which every child can go out in safety and get an education to become a doctor, engineer, scientist or religious scholar," he added. "The Taliban and the Afghan National Army should join hands and fight the enemies of Afghanistan and defend the national integrity of the country."
Farzana Khoshal, a women's rights activist in Kandahar Province, emphasised the need to preserve women's rights in the peace talks.
"We women faced numerous challenges in the last 19 years. We fought for our rights, and several brave women even lost their lives," she said.
"Hundreds of thousands of girls [and women] are going to schools, universities and work, and this will continue because women, like men, have rights that Islam and the constitution have given them," Khoshal said.
"In the peace talks, we are telling both the Afghan government and the Taliban that we support a government in which women have the right to work, study, speak, elect and be elected," she said.
"We are never in favour of a peace in which women are not allowed to leave the house to study or work in offices."
"Like men, we want to go into politics, serve our society and specialise in different fields so that Afghanistan can develop like neighbouring and other countries," Khoshal added.
Demands for peace
Both sides must seize the opportunity and put an end to the war in the country, said Barat Khan Achak, a tribal elder in Helmand Province.
"All officials in the Afghan government are Muslims and Afghans. Our constitution is Islamic; there is no issue with that. Our security forces are made up of Afghans, but unfortunately, war and the source of it are foreign," Achak said.
"The Taliban should take pity on this devastated and poor nation and stop harassing and killing Afghans and destroying Afghanistan. Both warring sides must seize this opportunity to end the war," he said.
"As a religious scholar, I tell you that the damned war is illegitimate. From now on, whoever is fighting in this country is against Islam," said Mawlawi Khan Mohamad Khetabi, a religious scholar from Tirin Kot, Uruzgan Province.
"More than ever, this is a good opportunity for the Afghan government and Taliban to talk face to face and reach an understanding since the hope of every Afghan is peace," he said.
"The current government is in conformity with all Islamic commandments and values. War is not the solution. Therefore, the international community must pressure the Taliban to reach a political settlement with the Afghan government to end the 40-year misery in the country so that the nation can feel at peace," Khetabi said.
"We religious scholars fully support the peace process. The rights of our people must be protected, and every Afghan should be given the right to speak and be heard," he added.
"We never want a monarchy, dictatorship or Emirate system again. We want a system where all Afghans can participate."
Afghan security forces are prepared for both war and peace and will not allow anyone to harm civilians, said Brig. Gen. Safiullah Nejrabi, commander of the 2nd Infantry Brigade of the Afghan National Army's 205th Atal Corps.
"We are the sons of this nation; we will never do anything that is against Islam, the constitution or the aspirations of the nation," Nejrabi said.
"We have made sacrifices for the dignity and security of this country, and we are ready to make more sacrifices. If the Taliban want to make peace, we welcome it, but if they want to continue fighting, the Afghan security forces are fully prepared," he said.