“We used to appreciate the hard work of the United States for development in Afghanistan,” Iqbal Khyber, a 27-year-old medical student from Helmand Province, told me in Kabul on July 2. “Unfortunately, things happened. The international forces started searching houses, thinking we had links to the Taliban. Special forces raids, misaimed bombs—these caused hatred among the people.”
Khyber and his companions sat under the blast-proof walls of the U.S. embassy. They were members of Afghanistan’s peace caravan, who over the course of 38 days had walked nearly 400 miles from Helmand Province, in the country’s southwest, to Kabul in order to tell Afghanistan’s warring parties that, in the words of a banner they had hung on the embassy wall, “We don’t want violence.”
The peace caravan arrived in Kabul on June 18, the day that the Taliban leaders in Pakistan refused to extend an unprecedented three-day cease-fire between the Afghan government, the Taliban, and the forces of the U.S.-led coalition. During the cease-fire, members of the Taliban entered government-controlled areas, including Kabul city, where they prayed alongside government officials, ate ice cream, and posed for selfies with women. In response to the Taliban refusal, the peace marchers decided to camp out in front of the embassies of the major foreign powers in Afghanistan—the United States, Russia, Pakistan, and Iran—to demand an end to the war, and they appointed a delegation to take their message to Taliban-controlled areas, as well.
At the U.S. embassy, the marchers’ first destination, I asked them questions about the possibility of peace with the Taliban. Khyber rejected the idea, popular in Washington, that intensifying military pressure on the Afghan Taliban will help bring them to the negotiating table. Rather, he said, “Pakistan has to be pressured to expel the Taliban leaders from Pakistan to Afghanistan.” Khyber also disagreed that the Taliban were extremists who would never accept democracy, and he called on the United States to “engage in direct talks
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