Peace marchers discuss US troop withdrawal with Taliban

KABUL (TOLO News): At least 24 members of the People’s Peace Movement had discussed the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan among other topics around peace during a five-day stay in Taliban-influenced Musa Qala district in southern Helmand province, head of the movement Iqbal Khyber said on Friday.

Earlier reports indicated that the peace activists were detained by the Taliban when they entered their territory earlier this week. But the activists rejected the reports.

Khyber said the Taliban had asked members of the People’s Peace Movement to work with the group in ending the US presence in Afghanistan.
It took 24 hours for the peace activists to reach Taliban-influenced areas in their journey from Lashkargah city, the center of Helmand province.

“We called on them (the Taliban) to agree on peace amongst each other so that there is no excuse for the presence of foreign forces here,” said Zeer Ahmad Zindani, member of the movement.

The activists said that they will travel to different parts of Afghanistan to continue their efforts for ending the war in the country.

“We asked the Taliban that the peace movement members should travel to each corner of the country and pass on the message of peace. We also asked them to announce a ceasefire first, and second, choose an address for talks,” said Zmarai Zaland, member of the movement.

One member of the movement said they were “taken” by the Taliban to their areas as they entered their influenced areas without their permission.

“Taliban and the people had a soft treatment with us. We had food on one table,” said Atiqulalh Afghan, member of the movement.

The Helmand Peace Convoy

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