After years of raging violence and bloodshed, women in conservative Afghanistan have risen for peace and against terrorism.
It was a brazen blast outside a sports facility in the restive Helmand province that first prompted the local youth, and later women and girls to set up camps and rally for peace.
Last Friday, a car bombing outside the Ghazni Mohammad Ayub Khan stadium killed up to 15 people, all civilians, who had gathered there for a traditional wrestling competition.
The “Helmand Parlat,” or “sit-in” in Pashto, has a simple and straightforward slogan: “Taliban! Must make peace now.” It has evolved into a robust movement dubbed “From Lashkargarh [capital of Helmand province] to Mosa Qala [district under the influence of the Taliban] Movement for Peace.”
Safiullah Sarwan, a 28-year-old, was among the founders of this movement that aims to lead a convoy of civil society activists into the Taliban’s bastions in the province and urge them to shun violence for good.
“This civil society movement is ongoing, we have received a positive response from the opposite side [the Taliban],” he told The Globe Post.
Local female activists have also vowed to visit Taliban fighters stationed in the province to carry a message of peace to the group.
One female protester, Bacha Gula, said the people of Afghanistan in general, and the people of Helmand in particular, urge the Taliban to stop violence for the sake of Allah.
“Just for how long shall we keep carrying coffins of young and old, men and women and children…have mercy on the people of Afghanistan, and end this war,” she told The Globe Post.
The Helmandi women long for peace as the province has been the stage for fierce armed battles, car bombings, aerial raids and targeted killings for years.
Women and children remain heavily affected by violence in the war-ravaged country. The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan documented that in 2017, 359 women were killed and 865 were injured in conflict-related incidents.
The Taliban is yet to respond to the landmark peace offer extended by President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani at the 2nd Kabul Process Conference last month. But one of the group’s spokesmen, Qari Yosuf Ahmad, has recorded an audio message to address the women and men participating in the Helmand movement.
“The Taliban leadership will respond to the organizers of the peace rally in Helmand if foreign forces are pulled out of Helmand’s Shorabak base and Kandahar Airport,” he said referring to NATO forces’ main bases in the south of Afghanistan.
In an open offer for peace to the Taliban, Mr. Ghani had pressed the group to shun violence and become a political party. On February 28, during the Kabul Process Conference attended by representatives of more than 20 countries and international organizations, he said the offer for peace was unconditional.
Security Council welcomed the convening of the second meeting of the Kabul Process for Peace and Security Cooperation in Afghanistan on 28 February. It also welcomed the offer made by the #Afg Govt to the Taliban to engage in direct peace talks. https://t.co/GrpCSxB4Wc
— Afghan Embassy Oslo (@AFGEmbassyOslo) March 15, 2018
The president announced that the Afghan government would provide passports to the Taliban members and their families, and open an office for them, while also working to remove sanctions against the group’s leaders.
However, the Taliban has been more interested in negotiations with Washington rather than Kabul.
“The Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [Taliban’s shadow government] calls on American officials to talk directly to the Political Office of Islamic Emirate regarding a peaceful solution to the Afghan quandary,” the group asserted in a statement on the eve of Kabul Process conference.
“It would help in finding a solution if America accepts the legitimate demands of the Afghan people and forward its own concerns and requests for discussion to the Islamic Emirate through a peaceful channel.”
There is a fear in the country about yet another deadly year ahead: since the announcement of the new U.S. war strategy last year, Afghanistan has seen a momentous rise in violence, with the militants increasingly targeting the capital city of Kabul and the U.S. and Afghan forces intensifying air and ground offensives against the rebels.
This week, sensing rejection of the peace offer by the Taliban, the Kabul government kicked-off its annual “Nusrat,” or “Victory,” offensive against the rebels. If the efforts of Helmandi men and women also fail to bring peace, the Taliban is likely to announce its annual offensive in a few days.