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Afghan peace march wins hearts of many

Features | 2018-06-18 01:21:00
Afghan peace march wins hearts of many
The peace march of peasants, students and farmers from Afghanistan’s restive Helmand province has already won hearts and minds of many war-weary Afghans halfway through their destination, Kabul.

The Helmand Peace March evolved from the sit-in camps in this southern province when a suicide bomber killed scores of civilians, who were returning home after watching a local wrestling competition in the provincial capital Lashkargah in March.

After their weeks-long sit-in and days of hunger-strike, the stanch peace activists decided to go ahead with the unimaginable -- walk the 700-kilometer (435-mile) distance up to Kabul under scorching sun on the treacherous, insecure and barren highways in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“We had absolutely no huge expectations, no fear and were expecting no support from anyone. But, we desperately wanted to send across the message of peace and share the agonizing ordeals of so many war-victims, mothers, sisters and brothers, who have been longing for an end to this unfortunate spate of bloodshed for good,” Iqbal Khyber, a leader of the Helmand Peace March told Anadolu Agency.

The peace marchers walked through scores of southern villages and town, many of them under the clout of the Taliban, camped in open air, in mosques or with random villagers.

“The raging war has made Afghans in these villages so poor, so heartbroken that is inconceivable…some of these villagers bring us Lasi (blend of yogurt and water) with bread out of the deep-rooted tradition of hospitality, they sit with us […] we console them, they back us”.

In third week of their march, the Helmandi youth camped at a mosque of the ethnic Shia Hazara community, a persecuted minority group, in central Ghazni province.

Pacha Khan, another member of the group, said the peace marchers are bringing people closer, binding bonds of peace and harmony among different groups of Afghanistan in these testing times.

The Hazara community members sang the songs of peace and welcomed the marchers with bouquets of fresh flowers on arrival in Ghazni after they covered a distance of over 500 kilometers (311 miles) in three weeks.

Ceasefire

It was during their short stay here when Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani appeared live on the national broadcaster RTA to declare unilateral and unconditional ceasefire against the Taliban for eight days -- from the 27th of the holy month of Ramadan till the fifth day of the Muslim festival of Eid in mid-June.

Afghanistan celebrated the Eid on June 15.

On June 7, Ghani declared the Afghan security forces will only stop offensive maneuvers against armed Taliban and will continue to target Daesh and other foreign-backed terrorist organizations and their affiliates.

The president noted the ceasefire is an opportunity for Taliban to introspect as their violent campaign is not wining them hearts and minds but further alienating the Afghan people from their cause.

This was responded by the Taliban leadership on Thursday directing its armed fighters not to target “internal opponents” i.e. the Afghan forces during three days of Eid.

“The Taliban allowed us to march through their areas, we even met the fierce commanders of their ‘red unit’ in this while, and many military and police commanders called upon us in Ghazni and other provinces in private, all are sick and tired of war”, Pacha Khan of the peace march told Anadolu Agency.

Ghani’s peace offer and subsequent ceasefire came after an esteemed religious decree by close to 3,000 Afghan religious figures denouncing the spate of terrorism in the country.

The government’s main body, the High Peace Council, tasked with reaching a peaceful settlement to the 17-year-old conflict is optimist about the prospects for truce.

Ameenuddin Muzafari, member of the HPC, informed all efforts would be ensured to facilitate talks via religious scholars and other influential figures.

The peace marchers are set to enter the capital Kabul in mid-July where they would hold a large gathering that would call upon all warring sides to go for permanent ceasefire.

The unprecedented ceasefire announced by the Taliban that started on Friday, June 15, is seen as a ray of hope in Afghanistan.
Anadolu Agency
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