HERAT -- While thousands of Afghan civilians in various provinces have joined public uprisings against the Taliban in recent days, more and more members of the militant group are laying down their weapons.
In the latest such instance, a group of 130 Taliban fighters on Thursday (June 24) laid down their arms and joined the peace process in Herat province after fighting against the government for 15 years, local officials said.
During a ceremony to mark the occasion in Herat city, Mawlawi Mardan Noorzai, the commander of the surrendered group, told reporters that the ongoing conflict and the killing of Afghan civilians have no justification or legal basis.
"With the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, the jihad is over, and nobody can seek any excuses to continue the battle," he said.
Now is the time to make peace, he said, adding, "I urge all parties to lay down their arms and contribute to the rehabilitation efforts in our country."
"I call on my fellow Taliban fighters to immediately halt their battle and make peace with the government," Noorzai said.
Upon their surrender, the former insurgents gave up 130 various heavy and light weapons to the security forces.
The militants had been waging war against security forces and were involved in planning and carrying out attacks in southern districts of the province for the past 15 years, Herat Governor Abdul Saboor Qani said during the ceremony.
Now the government will support the group, who will be deployed alongside Afghan security forces to fight the Taliban, he said.
The group's surrender will improve the security situation and prevent future Taliban attacks, Qani added.
With the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, there is no reason to continue the war, said the former Taliban militants.
Security forces are all Afghans and Muslims, and waging "jihad" against them was a big mistake, said Mullah Abdul Wali, one of the surrendered Taliban fighters.
"I will never fight our country's military forces again," he said.
Wali said that after fighting alongside the Taliban for several years, he learned about their true intentions and "understood that the ongoing conflict was not jihad."
"I regret that I have devastated my country and killed many innocent fellow citizens in the name of 'jihad'," Wali said.
From now on, he will take part in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan instead of war and destruction, he said.
The continuation of any conflict under the name of "jihad" is not admissible, said Mawlawi Akhtar Mohammad, another former militant.
The current war is killing Afghans and Muslims, he said.
He urged other Taliban members to join the ongoing peace process and understand that now is the time to make peace and stop the war.
Abdul Razaq, another surrendered Taliban fighter, said he no longer wants to make bombs that destroy public roads and bridges and serve only to ruin Afghanistan.
"The Taliban commanders forced us to kill our brothers," he said.
After years of deception, he said he would no longer fall for the lies of Taliban leaders and shed the blood of his fellow countrymen.
"If the Taliban do not stop killing Afghan civilians, we will stand against them and destroy them," Razaq said.
Afghan forces ready
Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) are making gains in the western region, authorities say.
The ANDSF thwarted a recent Taliban attempt to overrun Pashtun Zarghun district, Maj. Gen. Kheyal Nabi Ahmadzai, commander of the 207th Zafar Corps, said during the surrender ceremony in Herat city.
During the air and ground operation to protect the district, Afghan forces killed as many as 53 Taliban fighters, including local commanders, and wounded more than 30, he said.
The ANDSF also destroyed two cars loaded with explosives and dozens of the Taliban's weapons and vehicles, he said.
With the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban thought they could regain power, but they failed to realise that the ANDSF alone can fight and defeat them and other terrorist groups, Ahmadzai said.
All of the Taliban's terrorist plans in Herat province have been repelled by the security forces, said Brig. Gen. Hasibullah Siddiqui, director of the National Directorate of Security office in Herat.
"The Taliban have made several failed attempts to capture a number of districts in Herat; however, they were defeated and sustained heavy casualties," he said at the surrender ceremony.
"My message to the Taliban," Siddiqui said, "is that Afghanistan is our homeland and together with our compatriot women and men, we will fight against and defeat any terrorist group."
Uprising against the Taliban
In response to an escalation of Taliban attacks in recent weeks, civilians in various provinces have joined the fight against the militants.
More than 250 residents of Guzara district of Herat province Wednesday took up arms and chanted slogans against the Taliban.
Similarly, more than 1,000 residents of Badghis province on June 19 also stood up against the Taliban and declared their support for the security forces.
The Taliban "should refrain from fighting the people", said Ghulam Farooq Sakha, a member of the uprising group in Guzara.
"If they do so, they must understand that they will be killed altogether," he said.
"The Taliban have continued to kill innocent civilians and security forces, as well as destroying Afghanistan," he said, urging the Taliban to immediately stop such acts of violence and extremism.
The Taliban's oppression have left local residents with no option but to take up arms and stand alongside their security forces, said Rahmatullah Rahmati, another member of the public uprising in Guzara.
"We are fighting the Taliban because they have destroyed Afghanistan's infrastructure and committed treason," he said.
The Taliban continue to kill dozens of innocent civilians including men, women and children daily, he said. In addition, hundreds of families daily are forced to abandon their homes to escape the Taliban's barbarism.
Silence in the face of the Taliban's crimes and oppression is a sin and everyone must fight against this terrorist group, Rahmati said.