HERAT -- The Taliban are not acting in good faith, Afghan officials say, pointing to the large number of Taliban fighters freed from prison as part of the precursor to intra-Afghan talks who have returned to the battlefield.
The Taliban have not delivered on any of the promises they made in the peace agreement with the United States, and instead have continued killing innocent Afghans, said Toryalai Taheri, deputy chairman of the Herat Provincial Council.
"Reports that the Provincial Council has received from locals and tribal elders show that a large number of Taliban fighters have returned to the battlefields in many Herat districts," he said.
One of the reasons for the escalation in violence in parts of Herat Province is that militants released from prison have returned to fighting, he said.
In the peace deal signed with the United States in February, the Taliban promised that they would reduce violence and stop attacking cities, district centres and highways. The deal also included a controversial and months-long prisoner exchange.
"The Taliban are turning a blind eye to the international community," he said. "On the one hand, they promise that they will make peace and reduce violence, and on the other, they have continued to kill Afghan civilians."
The Taliban and the Afghan government have been engaging directly for the first time in peace talks taking place in Doha, Qatar, following the landmark deal signed by the insurgents and Washington.
The United States agreed to withdraw all foreign forces by May 2021 in exchange for security guarantees and the stipulation that the Taliban and the Afghan government achieve a solid peace agreement.
Taliban on the offensive
Based on investigative and intelligence information from security agencies, most Taliban fighters in the western region who were released as part of the peace agreement have returned to the battlefields where they continue to fight against government security forces, said Maj. Gen. Abdul Raof Arghandiwal, commander of the 207th Zafar Corps of the Afghan National Army.
"After the Taliban fighters' release and their return to the battlefields, instances of violence have surged in the western region," he said.
Newly released fighters are once again on the attack, confirmed Farah Governor Taj Muhammad Jahid.
"Intelligence reports of our security agencies precisely show that Taliban fighters who were released from the prisons ... have returned to the battlefields," he said.
Taliban fighters who were released are behind many of the group's terrorist and offensive attacks across Farah Province, he said.
"A large number of released prisoners who are residents of Farah Province have gone to southern provinces like Kandahar and Helmand to fight against security forces," he added.
Not committed to peace
Afghans have lost trust in the Taliban as they continue to engage in violence and kill civilians, said Abdul Aziz Baig, chairman of the Badghis Provincial Council.
The Taliban claimed in Doha that they wanted peace, but their members commit merciless killings and are destroying Afghanistan, he said.
"The Taliban promised at the Doha peace talks that they won't attack cities, but some of the cities are seeing explosions and suicide attacks on a daily basis, which the Taliban are taking responsibility for," he said.
"Most Afghans have lost trust in the Taliban for their lack of commitment to reaching peace," he said. "This act by the Taliban shows that they are not trying to achieve peace, but they are rather looking to grab power."
"The Taliban had promised that they wouldn't perpetrate terrorist attacks in cities, but dozens of civilians including women and children were massacred in a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack in Firoz Koh," said Hasan Hakimi, a civil society activist in Ghor Province.
In the October 18 attack, 15 civilians lost their lives and more than 100 were injured.
"One of the pledges the Taliban made in the peace agreement with the United States was to sever their ties with the terrorist network of al-Qaeda, but the Taliban have never cut their ties with the network, and they lie to the international community," added Hakimi.
"Some of the Taliban prisoners who were released ... returned to the battlefield soon after reaching their homes and resumed killing civilians," said Herat Governor Sayed Wahid Qatali.
"The Taliban members who took up weapons after their release from prison are leading the Taliban's battles in many districts of Herat Province," he said.
"These individuals swore on the Holy Koran that they wouldn't return to the war, but they have disrespected God's words," he said.
A large number of these insurgents who chose violence and bloodshed over a peaceful life have been killed in clashes with security forces, Qatali added.
Calls for a ceasefire
The Doha talks have made headway in recent days, setting out a code of conduct that will allow the process to move to the next stage of setting out the agenda for negotiations.
With peace talks appearing to move forward, Afghans are renewing calls for a ceasefire.
"Why is the war and bloodshed continuing while peace talks are under way between the Taliban and government in Doha?" asked Muhammad Zarif Balooch, a resident of Zaranj, Nimroz Province.
"We expect the Taliban to declare a ceasefire ... so that the public can trust their commitments," he said. "All the Taliban's demands for starting peace talks have been fulfilled, but they have never renounced violence."
If the Taliban are real Afghans, expect to have a role in the political future of Afghanistan and seek to win trust, they have to renounce violence and stop killing Afghans as soon as possible, he said.
"The Taliban shouldn't resort to perpetrating suicide attacks, explosions and bloodshed just to gain more leverage in the peace talks," said Nazir Ahmad Haideri, a resident of Herat city.
"People expect the Taliban and the government to declare a ceasefire first so that all Afghans can watch these peace talks in a peaceful environment," he said. "When the talks are under way in Doha and Afghanistan sees bloodshed, such discussions are meaningless."