HERAT -- Almost 10,000 women, religious scholars, youth and families of war victims gathered last week in Herat city to condemn the Taliban's continued violence.
They called on the Taliban to stop killing Afghans and to stop destroying Afghanistan.
Everyone is tired of the war and innocent civilians are losing their lives for no reason, said Shaqayeq Noorzai, a 9th grader in Herat city who attended the gathering Thursday (May 27).
"We, the youth, are afraid of the war. We leave our homes in fear and because of insecurity, our families cannot let us go to school alone," she said.
The Taliban have made life hell by continuing violence and killings, Noorzai said.
"We call on the Taliban to make peace with the government so that Afghans do not worry about insecurity anymore and are relieved of despair," she said.
Taliban continue slaughtering civilians
Two days after the gathering, two incidents underscored the Taliban's lack of commitment to peace.
"6 #civilians were killed and 4 others were injured when a #Taliban terrorists [sic] rocket hit a wedding ceremony in #Kapisa province," Defence Ministry spokesperson Fawad Aman tweeted Sunday, a day after the attack.
The dead included women and children, said Kapisa governor's spokesperson Abdul Shayeq Shuresh, who also blamed the Taliban.
The insurgents had aimed the mortar at an army checkpoint, but the round missed the target and hit the wedding ceremony, he said.
The Interior Ministry on Sunday further accused the Taliban of killing almost 250 civilians and wounding more than 500 in roadside bombings and other attacks over the past month.
At least four people were killed and 11 others were wounded Saturday when a roadside bomb struck their bus in Parwan province.
At least two of the killed were lecturers at Al-Beroni University from neighbouring Kapisa province, said the Higher Education Ministry, adding that the wounded included the dean of the university and some students.
Abdullah Abdullah, who heads the country's peace process, condemned the incident, which he called a "terrorist attack".
The Taliban denied firing the shell that hit the wedding ceremony and in general deny all attacks that kill civilians. But roadside bombs planted to target security forces often end up doing just that.
The group has also been accused of killing prominent Afghans including journalists, judges, civil society activists and politicians in a wave of targeted assassinations in Kabul and other cities.
No power through violence
The Taliban have gained nothing by continuing war and killings, said Mohammad Javed Sekandari, a shopkeeper in Herat city. Their only achievement is the destruction of Afghanistan and filling of graveyards, he added.
The Taliban should not shed more blood because they will not come to power by continuing the war, he said.
"Our demand of the Taliban is to return to the negotiating table and instead of fighting resolve its issues with the government at the negotiation table," he said.
Atifa Fayaz, an 11th grader in Herat city, said the continuation of violence and bloodshed has made her skeptical about her future and has hampered her ability to study.
"The war has left me with no motivation to live in Afghanistan," she said. "My greatest wish is that the Taliban abandon violence and that this fratricide ends in the country."
Terrorist attacks have destroyed schools, universities, infrastructure and cities, she said, adding that the situation has become unbearable.
No excuse for continuing war
With US and NATO forces withdrawing from Afghanistan, the Taliban no longer have any excuse to continue the war, religious scholars say.
The Taliban have massacred innocent Afghans for years under the pretext of the presence of foreign forces, said Mawlawi Sayed Mohammad Hanafi, a religious scholar in Herat city. Now the Taliban have no justification to continue their war.
"The Taliban must follow God's order and stop killing the Muslim people of Afghanistan," he said. "Since the door for negotiation has opened, both sides must stop violence and resolve their differences through dialogue."
The Taliban's war has done nothing but defame Islam and damage its reputation, Hanafi said.
The war has resulted only in killing Afghans and Muslims and is doomed from Islam's perspective, said Mawlawi Abdullah Mohammadi, a religious scholar in Herat city.
"Since the withdrawal of foreign forces has begun, what are the Taliban fighting for?" he said. "I call on the Taliban to come down from the mountains and lay down their arms."
The Afghan government is an Islamic government and according to the teachings of Islam, fighting against this government under the name of "jihad" is forbidden, he said.
Prosperity through peace
Participants of the Herat peace gathering called on both sides of the conflict, especially the Taliban, to immediately announce a permanent ceasefire, so they can end the bloodshed and pave the way for peace.
The importance of a ceasefire became clear to everyone during the three-day temporary ceasefire for Eid ul Fitr, they say.
"Our demand of the Taliban and of the government is to agree on a ceasefire and not to kill their Muslim brothers so that there is a lasting peace in the country," said Mohammad Qaderi, a Sharia law student at Herat University.
Peace brings prosperity, wisdom and positivity, he said.
"Peace is the best path so that all of us can live in the shadow of peace and under the banner of Islam and continue our education so that our country can have a well-functioning and stable economy," he said.
A ceasefire is a critical need as dozens of Afghans lose their lives every day, said Abdul Ahad Haidari, an unemployed resident of Herat.
"In the current situation, where an opportunity for peace has become available, as Afghans and Muslims, both sides need to abandon violence and declare a permanent ceasefire," he said.