KUNDUZ -- A group of Taliban fighters who voluntarily surrendered their arms to government officials received a welcome from the Samangan governor during a May 6 ceremony at his residence in the provincial capital of Aibak.
The eight Taliban fighters who handed over their arms said that with the withdrawal of foreign forces, there was no reason for them to carry on fighting.
They pledged to join the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF).
Their decision will improve the security situation in central Aibak, especially in Roi-do-Ab district, said Samangan governor Daud Kalakani.
The ongoing efforts for peace present the Taliban with an opportunity to renounce violence and stop the killing of innocent civilians, Kalakani said.
"We will fight the Taliban alongside the security forces," Makhdom Noorulada, the group's commander and former Taliban shadow governor for Roi-do-Ab district, told Sima-ea-Sulh radio.
The only reason for the Taliban to continue the war in Afghanistan was the presence of foreign forces, he said. Now that the US and NATO forces are leaving Afghanistan, there is no excuse to continue the fighting.
Noorulada said his group hoped to join government forces in Roi-do-Ab in the fight against the Taliban, and called on the remaining Taliban fighters "to surrender and join the peace process".
"With the start of peace talks, there is no reason for continuing the war," he said, adding that "everybody expects the talks to produce a positive outcome".
"We were told that what we were doing was 'jihad', but I later realised that the Taliban are involved in brutal and criminal activities under the name of Islam," Noorulada said.
The eight former fighters who surrendered May 6 joined the peace process through the mediation of tribal elders and as a result of efforts made by a unit of the local army in Roi-do-Ab district, according to local officials.
The Taliban have established a base in Chahar Chashma village in Roi-do-Ab district to strike government targets, tribal elder Makhdom Azizullah said at the governor's ceremony.
"The group that surrendered has vowed to join security forces in the war against the Taliban, starting with destroying the base in Chahar Chashma," he said.
'Time to end 40-year conflict'
Since security co-operation meetings began five months ago, at least 35 Taliban members have joined the peace process, local authorities in Samangan said.
Hundreds more have left the battlefield, amid pressure from Afghan forces.
While the fighting has killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans and has damaged the country's infrastructure and economy, the Taliban have gained nothing, said Aibak resident Abdul Ali Samangani.
"Both the government and the Taliban should respect the public's demands and reach a negotiated settlement," he said. "Now is the right time to end the 40-year conflict in Afghanistan through peace talks and reconciliation."
"Afghans die daily in every corner of the country from the ongoing conflict," said Samangan activist Abdul Wahid Karimi. "We cannot tolerate this situation anymore."
"We call on the Taliban to stop their atrocities now," he said.
The Taliban's escalation, especially during the holy month of Ramadan, is an assault on human dignity and goes against Islamic values, Karimi said.
Foiling Taliban attacks
Meanwhile, Samangan provincial police spokesman Abdul Muneer Rahimi said the Taliban have stepped up their aggression across the country, especially in Samangan province, amid the withdrawal of foreign forces.
"Over the past month, security forces have inflicted heavy casualties on the Taliban in the centre and some districts of Samangan," Rahimi said, adding that security forces have successfully foiled every single one of their attacks.
Four Taliban insurgents were killed May 2 when they attacked a security checkpoint in Uzbek Parideh village in Dara-e-Sof Payan district, he said.
"The ANDSF has dismantled the Taliban's nearby base," Rahimi noted.
On May 4, two armed Taliban fighters surrendered to the National Police in Dara-e-Sof Payan district after Afghan security forces exerted military pressure in the area.