War-Weary Afghans March for Peace As Ceasefire Ends

War-Weary Afghans March for Peace As Ceasefire Ends

Monday, 18 June, 2018 - 09:00
An artificial flower is seen on a turban of a peace marcher as he arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan on June 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Kabul- Asharq Al Awsat
Hundreds of Afghan peace marchers arrived Monday in the capital, Kabul, after walking from Helmand 700 kilometers across the sun-baked, war-torn Afghanistan, as the Taliban ended an unprecedented ceasefire and resumed attacks in parts of the country.

The marchers, all men, including teachers, students and war victims on crutches and one in a wheelchair, were welcomed along the way by village women carrying the holy Koran, men singing and dancing or offering bread and yogurt, some in tears.

Exhausted after their long trek, most of it during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, the marchers walked double file through the Afghan capital shouting "We want peace!" and "Stop fighting!"

“I saw and learned things that I had never thought of before,” said Iqbal Khayber, 27, a medical student from Helmand.

“We met people in areas controlled by the Taliban and in areas under government control - everyone is really tired of war.”

"We want our people to stay united for peace and get rid of this misery for the next generation," Mohammad Naikzad, one of the marchers, told Tolo News.

"I am calling on both sides -- the government and the Taliban -- for God's sake... find a way for peace and reconciliation."

Before Ramadan, the marchers were walking 30 to 35 km a day, but during the fasting month, when they could not take food or water during daylight hours, they slowed to 20 to 25 km per day.

Mohammad Yasin Omid, 24, a teacher from Zabul province, said he joined the march on its 21st day.

“The group had already walked for 15 days. When I saw their bleeding and blistered feet, I could not control my tears so I decided to join them.”

The Taliban refused to extend their three-day ceasefire beyond Sunday night despite pressure from ordinary Afghans, the government and the international community.

Taliban fighters attacked security forces in numerous districts of eastern and southern Afghanistan, officials told AFP, but there were no details on casualties.

Defense ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanesh told AFP there had been "very few" reports of fighting since the government on Saturday extended its own ceasefire with the Taliban for another 10 days.

"We hope the Taliban accept the Afghan nation's call for peace," Radmanesh added.


The peace march, believed to be the first of its kind in Afghanistan, emerged from a sit-in protest and hunger strike in Lashkar Gah, the capital of the southern province of Helmand which is a Taliban stronghold.

That demonstration, which began spontaneously after a car bomb attack in the city on March 23, triggered similar movements by war-weary Afghans nationwide.

But when the Taliban and security forces failed to heed their demands to stop fighting, some protesters decided to take their message directly to the country's top leaders.

Initially ridiculed for their plan to walk from Helmand to Kabul, the marchers now enjoy strong public support.

Yet, now that they are in Kabul, they won’t stop.

“We received support from the people in Kabul as we had expected,” said marcher Badshah Khan.

“Now we will have sit-ins in tents and continue walking to other provinces to get more support.”

The anti-war marchers are calling for an extended ceasefire, peace talks and a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan -- which is also a key demand of the Taliban.

The Taliban announced Sunday they would not extend their ceasefire with Afghan police and troops despite describing the truce as "successful" and a demonstration that the militants were united.

The first formal nationwide ceasefire since the 2001 US-led invasion had sparked extraordinary scenes of Taliban fighters, security forces and civilians happily celebrating the Eid al-Fitr holiday together.

Some people took to social media to express their disappointment and anger at the Taliban's refusal to extend the truce.

"Once again, they have shown that they love shedding the blood of innocent Afghans," Madena Momad wrote on Facebook.

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