Security

Officials concerned Taliban deliberately stalling intra-Afghan talks

By Omar

Ahead of the second round of intra-Afghan peace talks in Qatar, more than 1,000 Herat Province residents gathered in Herat city on January 3 to call on the Afghan government and the Taliban to declare a ceasefire. [Omar]

HERAT -- Afghan government negotiators returned to Qatar on Tuesday (January 5) for a second round of talks with the Taliban, where they will push to enact a permanent ceasefire and to protect existing governance arrangements.

The Afghan delegation arrived in Doha January 5, through it was unclear when talks would begin, AFP reported.

"The negotiating team of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has started its internal meetings and is waiting for the Taliban delegation," Faraidoon Khwazoon, a spokesperson for the country's High Council for National Reconciliation, tweeted Wednesday (January 6).

Addressing parliament a day earlier, Afghan intelligence chief Ahmad Zia Saraj voiced concerns that the Taliban will attempt to drag out the talks.

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More than 1,000 residents of Herat Province gathered January 3 in Herat city to urge the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire during the second round of peace talks in Doha. [Omar]

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More than 100 religious scholars gathered December 31 at the Herat Grand Mosque to denounce the war in Afghanistan and to urge parties to the conflict to declare a ceasefire. [Omar]

"We believe the Taliban are planning to drag the talks (out) until the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan in the month of May," he said.

"We do not see the Taliban has any intention or will for peace," he added.

Calls for peace in Herat

Ahead of the talks, on Sunday (January 3), more than 1,000 Herat Province residents -- including religious scholars and tribal elders -- gathered in Herat city to call on the government and the Taliban to declare a ceasefire and an end to the war.

"We ask the government and the Taliban to stop the war so that Afghans can live in comfort," said Abdul Rashid, a resident of Shindand District, Herat Province.

"Our young people should not be killed in war anymore, and we can no longer tolerate the loss of our loved ones," he added.

"The war has continued in Afghanistan for 40 years, and it has not helped," he said. "This war has resulted in destruction and the killing of ordinary Afghans."

Every day, innocent civilians are killed, said Toor Muhammad Zarifi, a tribal elder in Herat Province, calling for an immediate stop to the bloodshed suffered by Afghans.

"Security forces and the Taliban, who are all the children of this country, lose their lives every day," he said. "The war has been intensified, and the casualties have increased."

The Taliban's killing of security personnel and of civilians is illegitimate, and the perpetrators will face God's punishment, according to Maulawi Sayed Shiraqa Qatali, a religious scholar in Herat city.

"Civilians and religious scholars call for a lasting and inclusive peace in the country," he said. "The killing of our loved ones needs to stop, and we cannot tolerate seeing killing, suicide attacks and destruction every day."

Peace a 'priority, obligation'

In a separate gathering on December 31, more than 100 key religious scholars of the western region declared the war in Afghanistan illegitimate and deemed a ceasefire "an obligation" during a gathering in the Herat Grand Mosque.

The scholars decried the slaughter of Muslims and said those who kill innocent civilians will be punished by God.

Peace is a priority, because if there is no peace, nobody can meet his or her obligations, said Maulawi Khudadad Saleh, chairman of the Ulema Council in Afghanistan's western region.

"Religious scholars call on the government and the Taliban to declare a ceasefire as soon as possible and create an opportunity for a lasting and inclusive peace," he said.

"The so-called version of Islam that the Taliban promote as an Islamic system is not acceptable to the Afghan people and religious scholars," he said. "The Taliban do not have the right to choose a [so-called] Islamic system for the Afghan nation, because the current system is [in fact] Islamic."

An agreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban should usher in an inclusive government that protects the rights of all Afghans, said Abdul Khaliq Haqqani, director of the Herat Department of Hajj and Religious Affairs.

"All religious scholars support the peace talks between the government and the Taliban in Qatar and consider them a golden opportunity to stop the bloodshed of Muslims in the country," he added.

Assassination of journalists, activists

Civil society activists and journalists on January 2 called on the Taliban to stop the killings in Afghanistan, the day after a journalist was killed in Ghor Province.

Bismillah Adel Aimaq, director of Voice of Ghor radio, was gunned down January 1 near Firoz Koh.

The killing of journalists and civil society activists in a number of provinces is a matter of great concern, said Nooria Afghan, a civil society activist in Herat city.

"We ask the Taliban to stop assassinating journalists and civil society and human rights activists," she added. "Journalists and civil society activists are impartial, and they amplify the public's voice."

Afghan called on the government to work to prevent the killings and to punish the perpetrators.

"The Taliban want to silence Afghan media by putting psychological pressure on journalists and civil society and human rights activists," she said.

The US military on Monday (January 4) blamed the Taliban for the assassinations of prominent Afghans.

Media activities have been strongly affected by the increased targeting of journalists, with many staying home out of fear of assassination, said Khalil Rasooli, a journalist in Herat city.

"Terrorist groups want to curb freedom of speech with ... serial killings and to ensure that no one has the courage to raise their voice against them," he said, calling for an end to the killing of journalists and for the preservation of freedom of speech.

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If we look at the reality, Taliban have never delayed the process of negotiations, but officials of the Afghan government have always tried to destroy the peace talks. Sometimes, they bring forward the issue of prisoners and then they talk about the religious issues. In fact, the Afghan government does not want to make peace. They don't want to leave their positions for the sake of peace.

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Taliban are very arrogant; they say they have defeated America and authorities of this country were obliged to withdraw their soldiers from Afghanistan. So they want Afghan politicians to hand over power to them, because they consider themselves victorious of the war; therefore, there is not much optimism for peace. Neither Taliban are ready to share power with them, nor are Afghan government officials ready to hand over power to the Taliban. Even Afghan officials are not ready that an interim government is formed or the system is changed. They insist that Taliban should come and seize power through elections, while Taliban will never accept this, and it is presumed that bloody wars will start in the country next summer.

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