Blood, sweat and tears as activists protest against Taliban
As the US opens a dialogue aimed at ending the 17-year Taliban conflict, peace marchers are putting pressure on Pakistan to stop backing insurgents
Peace activists have released a bloodied letter in Kabul that pins the blame squarely on “Pakistan’s intelligence, army and government” for Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgency, which is now in its 18th year.
The activists, who made headlines in June by trekking 700 kilometres from Helmand to Kabul, said at their camp outside the Pakistani embassy that the letter, signed with the blood of their supporters, had been handed to a Pakistani diplomat.
“Our Afghan blood was spilled at the hands of Pakistan’s government, their army and intelligence agency; and now our own people are fighting with each other. Please stop our bloodshed,” states the letter, which is addressed “Dear People of Pakistan and the World”.
Their plea was issued as the US State Department confirmed that one of its diplomats had met with Taliban representatives in Doha last week to discuss a possible ceasefire. Further talks are planned, though the Taliban has refused to describe them as a peace initiative.
“These are a series of meetings for initiating formal and purposeful talks. We agreed to meet again soon and resolve the Afghan conflict through dialogue,” a Taliban official told Reuters news agency.
‘We shared this letter with our blood on it with Pakistan today because they are complicit in the bloodshed of our brothers and sisters’
Efforts to bring international pressure for a ceasefire began with the long trek by the People Peace Movement, which believes the Taliban can only continue with the support of Pakistani security services.
“Even the knife that was used to make us bleed was made by Pakistan,” said Wali Bawar, an activist from Kabul. “Pakistan government has interfered in Afghanistan for so long and kills us using different names,” he said referring to the increasing number of insurgent groups in Afghanistan, including the Taliban and the relatively new Islamic State. “This needs to stop,” Bawar added.
“We know this war [in Afghanistan] is a result of Pakistan,” said Mohammad Tahir from Kandahar, the youngest marcher at 17. “We shared this letter with our blood on it with Pakistan today because they are complicit in the bloodshed of our brothers and sisters. “We are covered in blood, and we ask them to stop this bloodshed.”
The letter was sent to both the United Nations and the Pakistan Embassy, though it is unclear whether the embassy actually accepted its copy. But while the letter was given to diplomats, Tahir admitted that its message was intended for the Pakistani people.
“We don’t speak to Pakistan [government]; we call upon the Punjabi people to ask their government why they have continued this fighting,” Tahir said, employing a term often used for Pakistanis. “If you have good schools, we are happy for you, but please don’t destroy our schools. If you have good roads we are happy for that, but please don’t destroy our infrastructure.”
The peace caravan is a motley collection of civilians, including teachers, poets, farmers, businessmen and activists, who started walking from the war-torn province of Helmand during the Islamic holy months of Ramadan. It took them more than 40 days to reach the capital city, in time for the Eid ceasefire in June.
People from other provinces joined in along the way, inspired by their peace message. Each member of the group has a tragic story of suffering brought on by the unending conflict in their country.
Since their arrival to Kabul the group have protested outside the UN offices and the embassies of the United States, Russia and Pakistan, repeating the same refrain: “This is not our war; we don’t want this war.” So far only one diplomat — the British ambassador — has come out from behind the mission walls to listen to their appeals.
‘Given the past [record] of Pakistan and the nature of its foreign policy, I don’t see much hope for a change in the near future’
Pakistan, whose government is still in a transitional stage following the tense election campaign, has remained silent, though incoming prime minister Imran Khan, expected to be sworn in by mid-August, has promised he will tackle pressing security issues.
Faisal said his expectations from Pakistan are too high. “Given the past [record] of Pakistan and the nature of its foreign policy, I don’t see much hope for a change in the near future.
“Our aim is that our message is carried to the people of all the countries who have interest in Afghanistan. They are representing the needs and rights of Afghans for peace globally. And additional international pressure and bans on Pakistan will either encourage or force Pakistan to stop harbouring and financing terrorist groups.”
Tahir is more optimistic that positive change will come from the protests. “They will hear our voices eventually,” he told Asia Times. “If they don’t listen, we will try harder,” he promised.
In the meantime, the group has moved on to the Iranian embassy, enduring the burning heat of Kabul with their spirits still high.
“To the people of Iran! Your government is equipping militant groups in Afghanistan,” they chanted. “To the people of Iran! Our water is saving your life, but your government is taking our lives. To the people of Iran! The current situation in Afghanistan is bad for us, but it is not beneficial for you either.”