It’s a warm afternoon in Kabul in June, and a group of Afghans, young and old, men, women and children, have congregated in the grounds close to one of the city’s largest mosques. The crowd has convened to hear a caravan of peace activists, who travelled 700 km by foot, demanding a peaceful end to the decades-old Afghan conflict that has claimed countless lives.
Among those gathered was an eight-year-old Afghan kid who had accompanied his father to hear the peace activists talk about their journey. He listened to them with rapt attention and took selfies with some of them using his father’s phone. “I wanted him experience this. I am raising him to be prepared to live in this country,” the young boy’s father, 38-year-old Attaullah Khan, told this writer.
Even at that tender age, Mr. Khan said, his son was acutely aware of the conflict that engulfed the nation, increasing steadily by the day. “He has already seen so much death and destruction that now he associates the concept of dying with the Taliban. When a dog died on our street recently, he thought it was killed by the Taliban,” Mr. Khan said.
Meanwhile, another man, also part of the peace caravan, shouted out on the speakers. “This is not our war; we don’t want this war.” Others cheered along with chants of ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great). The group of peace-marchers started its journey from the war-torn province of Helmand following a series of attacks. They walked on foot across seven provinces of Afghanistan, making the 700 km journey in a little over 40 days, spreading their message of peace among locals. Their four-point demand lays emphasis on the need for an indefinite ceasefire, peace talks between warring parties and setting a timeline for the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan.
Many Afghans joined them along the way, leaving behind work, business and families. Among them was 38-year-old Farhad Qadil, a small business owner from Nagarhar province. “I saw posts about their march on Facebook and I was inspired with what they were doing. I immediately took my car to the mechanics and had it painted with the message of the peace caravan,” Mr. Qadil, who joined the march 16 days ago, said.
The three-day ceasefire mutually observed by the Taliban and the Afghan forces during Id provided a strong momentum to the peace movement. Leaders of the campaign urged all parties to extend the truce and meet on the negotiating table.
While the Afghan government obliged, the Taliban resumed fighting soon after, killing several troops at key check posts across the country. In response, the peace marchers extended their demands and appeal to the Taliban. “Dear Taliban, talk to us,” urged Iqbal Khaibar, one of the leaders of the movement. “This isn’t our war, and it has been enforced on us. Ask your leaders how long will we have to kill innocent people, your brothers,” he said.
Now in Kabul, they’ve continued their demonstrations and have met with several Afghan leaders, including President Ashraf Ghani. The group has since moved its tents around Kabul in attempts to draw the attention of the international stakeholders.
In a letter to the UN, Bacha Khan, another leader of the peace marchers, conveyed disappointment over the failure of the UN to prevent escalating conflict and civilian casualties. “The UN has spent so much money in Afghanistan but what do you have to show for it? What are the results of their peace efforts in Afghanistan?” asked Wali Bawar, another peace-marcher.
Ruchi Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Kabul