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Peace Activists March Toward Taliban Stronghold In Southern Afghanistan

Afghanistan More than two dozen activists of the People’s Peace Movement (PPM) embarked on a march of more than 150 kilometers from Helmand's capital Lashkar Gah to Musa Qala..

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan – Members of an Afghan peace movement are marching toward a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan to demand the hard-line movement and government forces commit to a lasting cease-fire.

Late on May 30, more than two dozen activists of the People’s Peace Movement (PPM) embarked on a march of more than 150 kilometers. Walking through farmlands and battle-scarred villages, they are traveling from Lashkar Gah, the capital of southern Helmand Province, to Musa Qala, a major Taliban stronghold in the north of the region.

“Our aim is to get everyone there to raise their voices for ending the war,” Bacha Khan Mauladad, the movement’s spokesman, told Radio Free Afghanistan. “We want to help the people there speak up for what they expect and want from peace.”

Mauladad says they are ready for the challenges during the final days of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when adult Muslims are required to refrain from food and drink from dawn till dusk.

“It will be an arduous journey during Ramadan,” he said of the long trek in the sizzling summer heat, when daytime temperatures hover around 40 degrees Celsius. “It is very obvious that we will face obstacles, and they [the Taliban] might tell us we are not welcome, but we are confident of overcoming all hurdles.”

The PPM emerged from a protest in March 2018. Mauladad and his colleagues were horrified by a bomb attack on a wrestling match in Lashkar Gah that killed 16 and injured dozens more.

The movement gained public recognition and backing by marching to the capital, Kabul. Following sit-in protests outside embassies there, PPM members trekked to the northern province of Balkh across the Hindu Kush Mountains.

Muhammad Tahir Basharyar is taking a break from pursuing his law degree in Helmand to join the march to Musa Qala.

“Peace is everything, because without peace there cannot be any progress and no education,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “We have no future, and everything is overshadowed by war and violence.”

The Taliban have not yet commented on the march. But they refused to allow the activists to make a similar journey to Musa Qala last year. Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, a purported Taliban spokesman, asked the movement’s members to first contact U.S. and NATO forces to ensure a cease-fire. The Taliban blame the presence of international forces for the war in Afghanistan.

Attaullah, a former brigadier general in the Afghan Army who goes by one name only, has traveled from the eastern province of Nangarhar to take part in the march.

“I am here to make sure our future generations can live in peace,” he said.

Attaullah says his generation can now play a historic role by joining the PPM activism.

“A couple of our generations have known nothing but guns [and violence],” he noted. “We will now need peace to compete in the world today.”

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Mohammad Ilyas Dayee's reporting from Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan.