Activists barred from meeting people in Taliban-controlled areas

Monitoring Desk

LASHKARGAH CITY: The peace marchers who met with the Taliban earlier this month held a gathering in the city of Lashkargah in the southern Helmand province on Saturday, where they reiterated their call for a ceasefire to expedite the peace efforts.

Dozens of Helmand residents attended the gathering who chanted the slogans of “war is enough”, “no to war” and “we want a ceasefire”.

The calls for a ceasefire has been rejected even when the peace marchers had a few days stay in Taliban-influenced Musa Qala district in Helmand during the Eid al-Fitr earlier in June.

The group has said that a ceasefire “will only benefit foreigners” and that they will not agree on it until there are foreign troops in the country.

“We went to Taliban-controlled areas and we talked for three hours but unfortunately Taliban did not allow us to meet and talk with the residents,” Iqbal Khyber, head of the People’s Peace Movement, under which the peace marchers are operating. 

“We want to know why the Taliban did not allow us [to talk to residents who are living in areas under their influence] and what actually the Taliban want to hide?” Khyber asked.

“We call on the Taliban that there is no option except peace and we ask them to announce a ceasefire and expedite the peace process,” said Abdul Khaliq, a member of the movement.

Those who attended the gathering said the people, especial the residents of the southern provinces, are tired of the ongoing war in the country.

“We are tired of the war. We have lost our relatives in the conflicts. We want peace,” said a Helmand resident who has lost her son in a clash between Afghan forces and the Taliban in the province. 

“We have the support of the people with us and we will raise our voice for peace across the country. We call on the other residents to cooperate with us,” said Abdullah, a Helmand resident.

The Helmand peace convoy

The People’s Peace Movement, also called the Helmand Peace Convoy, initially started their marches for peace when a group of at least a dozen activists staged a protest in the city of Lashkargah last year in March 2018 against an attack that killed around 16 people that month. About a month later, the activists left Helmand and marched on foot towards Kabul.

The activists walked through towns and villages, crossed provinces and met with local residents along the way. For 38 days, they walked and as they progressed, so their numbers grew.

About 700kms later, the group of eight had grown to an estimated 100. They arrived in Kabul on June 18 and handed over demands for a ceasefire and peace to both the Afghan government and the Taliban.

During their stay in Kabul, they held sit-in protests outside diplomatic offices in Kabul. They also met with President Ghani on a Kabul street where they asked him to accelerate the peace efforts.

The activists, whose ages ranged from 17 to 65, came from all walks of life and include students, athletes and farmers among others. It was these and other activists that then extended their walk from Kabul to Balkh. (TOLOnews)