Afghan activists begin barefoot march for peace

By Shadi Khan Saif
KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) – Afghan peace activists — the members of Afghanistan’s historic Helmand Peace March — on Friday began a barefoot journey from the capital Kabul to northern Balkh province in a bid to push the warring sides to end the raging war.Bismillah Watan Dost, from the Helmand Peace March, told Anadolu Agency the marchers will cover some 550 km would be covered in around two months."This is the movement of the peasants, of the orphans and poor who have suffered a lot during all these years of war and bloodshed. Our only demand is an end to the war, and with this message we would travel to Mazar-e-Sharif," Dost said.The pioneering peace march from the restive Helmand province evolved from a protest camp after a suicide bomber killed scores of civilians who were returning home after watching a local wrestling competition in the provincial capital Lashkargah in March.When their hunger-strike calling for truce in the country failed to make an impact, the resolute peace activists decided to go ahead with the then unimaginable – a 700km walk to Kabul under scorching Sun on the treacherous, insecure and barren highways in the Muslim holy month of fasting, Ramadan.“We had absolutely no huge expectations, no fear and were expecting no support from anyone. But, we desperately wanted to send across the message of peace and share the agonizing ordeals of so many war-victims, mothers, sisters and brothers, who have been longing for an end to this unfortunate spate of bloodshed for good,” Iqbal Khyber, a leader of the Helmand Peace March told Anadolu Agency.
Upon arrival in Kabul in June, the marchers were welcomed by President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani. "I am ready to sit with them [the Taliban leadership] in desert, in mountains in mosque…wherever they want”, he said.Addressing the Taliban leader as ‘Mawlawi’ [religious scholar] Hibatullah Akhundzada, Ghani invited the rebel leader to come and meet him for peace.
During their stay in Kabul, the peace activists staged camps in front of the embassies of the U.S., Russia, the U.K., Iran, Pakistan, the EU and the Organization of Islamic Conference urging them to play their part in ending the war in Afghanistan.