KABUL (Reuters) – Hundreds of Afghan peace marchers arrived exhausted in the capital, Kabul, on Monday after spending the fasting month of Ramadan crossing the sun-baked, war-torn country, much of it under Taliban control.
The marchers, all men, including teachers, students and war victims on crutches and one in a wheelchair, were welcomed along the way by village women carrying the holy Koran, men singing and dancing or offering bread and yoghurt, some in tears.
“I saw and learnt things that I had never thought of before,” said Iqbal Khayber, 27, a medical student from Helmand.
“We met people in areas controlled by the Taliban and in areas under government control – everyone is tired of war.”
The march was triggered by a car bomb in Helmand on March 23 that killed at least 14 people and wounded dozens. No group claimed responsibility.
Khayber said the marchers, varying in number from day to day, would take main roads and sometimes turn into villages, choosing dangerous areas on purpose to try to confront people’s fear.
Before Ramadan, the marchers were walking 30 to 35 km (18 to 20 miles) a day, but during the fasting month, when they could not take food or water during daylight hours, they slowed to 20 to 25 km per day.
In one area of Ghazni province, they were told by the Taliban not to enter an area because it was too dangerous.
Mohammad Yasin Omid, 24, a teacher from Zabul province, said he joined the march on its 21st day.
“The group had already walked for 15 days. When I saw their bleeding and blistered feet, I could not control my tears so I decided to join them.”
But Afghanistan has been at war for four decades, ever since the Soviet invasion in 1979.
The anti-war marchers, many of whom were taken to hospital for treatment for dehydration and blisters, said they won’t stop in Kabul.