Peace marchers from Helmand look to change Afghanistan's narrative

Photo of the peace march taken from the Etilaatroz news website and used with permission.

A total of 10,453 civilian casualties — 3,438 people killed and 7,015 injured — were documented in 2017 in Afghanistan. After Kabul, the capital city, it was residents of the southern province of Helmand that had it worst.

The #HelmandPeaceMarch movement led by youth from the province tells a story of fatigue from war and spotlights the next generation's search for a better life in a country riven by violence.

The march has now reached Kabul, after 700 kilometres on foot through four of Afghanistan's most insecure provinces –Helmand, Zabul, Ghazni and Maidan Wardak. On their way, marchers held meetings with villagers and explained the purpose of their march. They began as 7 people but acquired 59 others over the course of their journey.

The Peace marchers’ caravan arrived Kandahar. They moved from Helmand toward Kabul to seek peace and security for their homeland. These dears should be praised and welcomed. Their determination, honesty, and hard-work are admirable. I hope their voice will be heard and they will get the desired result.

Helmand is a strategic prize for both the government and the Taliban. It is often assumed that the local population of Helmand has reached an accommodation with the insurgents, who control more territory there than the government.

The march sought to to defy that stereotype.

This rural-born peace movement grew out of a Taliban bombing in Helmand in March left 15 dead and scores wounded.

First, several sit-in tents popped up in Helmand and other provinces:  Herat, Nimruz, Farah, Zabul, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Ghazni, Paktia, Kunduz, Kunar, Nangrahar, Balkh, Parwan, Daykundi, Maidan Wardak, Bamyan and Jawzjan. Hunger strikes followed.

The march from Helmand to Kabul has four main demands:

  1. Respecting the holy month of Ramadan, all sides of war should declare a ceasefire.(Ramadan ended last week and despite a brief ceasefire, the Taliban have recommenced attacks on government targets);
  2. Specific channels and addresses for peace talks should be identified among all sides of the war, and peace negotiations should be launched;
  3. Considering Islamic and national values and interests, practical steps should be taken for forming a system that is acceptable to all sides;
  4. Based upon the agreement of all sides in this war, a specific timeline should be set for the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan.

The marchers have been mostly welcomed warmly by people on their way to Kabul. Some even responded to their protest with flowers and songs for peace.

#Helmand2Kabul and #HelmandPeaceMarch hashtags have widely shared on social media by men, women, boys and girls of all ethnic backgrounds.

On June 19, the marchers met with President Ashraf Ghani, not in the lavish presidential palace in Kabul as officials initially offered, but on the street, where their movement began. The Taliban have so far refused to meet with them in any official capacity, the marchers said, although they have met and talked with fighters from the group along their way.

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