Demanding an end to war, dozens of Afghans are making an over 400-mile trek on foot from Helmand to Kabul.
"We are tired of this war and bloodshed," Zaheer Ahmad Zindani, who was blinded in a roadside explosion, told Agence France-Presse.
The peace march to the Afghan capital followed from a protest in reaction to a deadly car bombing last month and comes amidst a declaration by Afghan president Ashraf Ghani of a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban, though not with other groups. The U.S. said it would honor it, yet ramp up attacks on the Islamic State and other militant groups in the same time period.
"We have four demands" that will be presented to Afghan leaders, said Bacha Khan Mawladad, a member of the peace convoy. "First, the warring parties should announce a ceasefire during Ramadan; second, specify an address (for peace talks), third, establish a joint government, fourth, sit together and fix a date for the withdrawal of 'foreigners' (from Afghanistan)."
At The Progressive, peace activist and author Kathy Kelly, just back from a trip to Afghanistan, recently wrote that "throngs of people in cities and towns along their route have shown solidarity with the walkers." According to AFP, citing information from organizers, "Nine people began the weeks-long anti-war march in May, but their numbers have since swollen to around 50."
Upon arriving in Ghazni, said one member of the peace group, "We were welcomed unexpectedly. Thousands of people came out. The religious scholars said in public that this is the voice of justice and the ongoing war in the country should stop." A YouTube video shows the group receiving a warm—and musical—greeting upon their arrival:
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Speaking to Democracy Now! last week, Kelly said "the Helmand peace walk is very, very unusual. And I think it is bringing a measure of hope in the idea that people could assert themselves outside of the very, very, very corrupt government controls."
A federal watchdog recently declared the U.S. occupation a $5 billion failure, and the United Nations estimates that over 2,200 civilians were killed in Afghanistan as a result of armed conflict in the first three months of 2018 alone, with the deaths attributed to pro-government forces as well as extremist groups. The U.S. presence in the country, however, appears to have no end date, and President Donald Trump has doubled down on the U.S. military involvement there, fueling civilian casualties.
"I can be killed if I stay home or if I go to my shop, so I have decided it is much better to die for peace so the next generation of my family can enjoy peace," Mohammad Sarwari, who uses crutches after suffering from polio, told AFP.
Kelly urged those who have contributed to the desperate situation in Afghanistan, including the "most sophisticated and heavily armed warring party in Afghanistan...the U.S. military," to heed the group's message.
"I worry that in my country, the U.S., the dominant religion has become militarism," Kelly wrote in a column for Common Dreams on Monday. She added:
Rather than extending a hand of friendship to people in other lands and, in the case of Afghanistan, paying reparations for the terrible suffering we've caused, the U.S. continues to seek security through dominance and military might. It's a futile effort. The Helmand to Kabul peace walkers display a better means of securing peace: the path of fellowship with our neighbors on this planet, of living simply so that others might simply live, and of willingness to share, even partially, in the human hardship and precarity others face.
I hope those walking for peace, working for equality, and imploring a different way forward can be heard and celebrated not only in Afghanistan, but in every country and amongst every group that has ever caused bloodshed and ruin in Afghanistan.