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Peace marchers arrive in Kabul as Taliban restarts anti-government offensives

Sayad Ahmad Jahangir, 21, a bricklayer, is pictured here at a gathering of peace marchers at Kabul's Abdul Rakhman Mosque on Monday, June 18, 2018. Jahangir joined the march in Ghazni province, when the convoy passed through his home district 15 days earlier.

CHAD GARLAND/STARS AND STRIPES

By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 18, 2018

KABUL, Afghanistan — Dozens of men who marched hundreds of miles across Afghanistan arrived in Kabul with demands for an end to decades of conflict on Monday, shortly after the Taliban ended its brief cease-fire.

The peace convoy began with eight men in southern Helmand province, where hundreds of U.S. Marines and British forces have died fighting during the nearly 17-year war.

As the marchers traversed north through villages and a landscape littered with roadside bombs and devastation, their numbers grew to more than 60.

Farhad Adil, 38, and Ataullah, 65, a retired army colonel, who like many Afghans goes by one name, both traveled from Nangarhar province to join the marchers in Ghazni province 18 days ago. Sayad Ahmad Jahangir, 21, a bricklayer, also joined in Ghazni when the convoy passed through his home district 15 days ago.

“Innocent people are getting killed everywhere,” Jahangir said, explaining what motivated him. Like the rest, he wore a blue sash proclaiming, “Stop the war.”

Along the way, the marchers stopped in mosques to rest and to share their message.

“The villages have been portrayed as terrorist safe havens, but now we have seen that they all welcomed us and showed us love,” said Iqbal Khayber, one of the original eight marchers who began in Lashkar Gah, in the heart of Taliban-dominated Helmand.

Speaking at a gathering in the ornate, chocolate-colored Abdul Rahman Mosque, one of the largest in Kabul, Khayber said no one they encountered on the nearly 40-day, 400-mile trek wanted war.

“We saw all types of people, local police, Taliban, elderly people, women, children, all saying that they do not want the war anymore,” he said. “The war is imposed on us and the nation must get out of it.”

Many they met were suffering mental trauma from the sight of their loved ones’ corpses or from seeing bodies torn apart by violence, he said.

The Kabul government, with its U.S. and other international backers, seeks to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. This month, attempting to encourage reconciliation, Afghan forces stood down their offensive operations against the insurgents for eight days. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani added 10 more days this weekend, after Taliban fighters flooded into many cities, hugging Afghan troops and praying together or taking selfies with them.

The truce coincided with a Taliban cease-fire during the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of Ramadan. It brought unprecedented calm, as no war casualties were reported on the first day of Eid on Friday. Many Afghans hoped it would be a watershed moment in the war, leading to eventual peace.

The Taliban, however, have officially rebuffed invitations to extend the cease-fire and to reconcile, demanding first a withdrawal of foreign forces and direct talks with Washington, not Kabul.

They repeated those demands on Sunday night, when they declared an end to their truce and a return to fighting Afghan troops and their international backers.

While insurgent violence was back up again Monday, it was not yet as rampant as it was before the holiday, said Nasrat Rahimi, deputy spokesman for the Interior Ministry. He said Afghan forces remain in “stand-by mode” to defend against attacks during the government’s continued halt on offensive operations against the Taliban.

Meanwhile, in Kabul, peace marchers were getting their blistered feet bandaged and hoping to take their protest to the rest of the country.

garland.chad@stripes.com
Twitter: @chadgarland

Peace marchers Farhad Adil, left, and Ataullah, right, a retired army colonel who, like many Afghans, goes by one name, are pictured here on the steps of Kabul's Abdul Rakhman Mosque on Monday, June 18, 2018. The two men from Nangarhar province traveled to Ghazni 18 days earlier to join other marcher.
CHAD GARLAND/STARS AND STRIPES

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