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'Thirsty for peace' Afghans march for 38 days, vow that's just the beginning

Image: Afghan peace march
Iqbal Khaibar. Copyright Ahmed Mengli
Copyright Ahmed Mengli
By Ahmed Mengli and Linda Givetash and Mushtaq Yusufzai and Reuters with NBC News World News
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"When I saw their bleeding and blistered feet, I could not control my tears so I decided to join them," one participant said.


KABUL, Afghanistan — A roadside bomb cost Zahir Ahmad Zindani both his vision and his sister.

Zahir Ahmad Zindani.
Zahir Ahmad Zindani.Ahmed Mengli

That didn't stop the 22-year-old from being among hundreds of people who completed a grueling 38-day march for peace in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Monday.

Zindani said he had lost many family members in years of conflict involving the Taliban, the Afghan government and foreign military forces.

"We have been thirsty for peace," Zindani told NBC News. "We will continue our journey ... until our demands are met."

The marchers also included war victims on crutches and one in a wheelchair. They spent the fasting month of Ramadan crossing the country, much of it which is under Taliban control.

Their 400-mile trek began in the southern province of Helmand. A blast on March 23 that killed at least 14 people and wounded dozens sparked the march.

They were welcomed along the way by villagers carrying the holy Quran, men singing and dancing or offering bread and yogurt, some in tears.

Iqbal Khaibar.
Iqbal Khaibar.Ahmed Mengli

"Everyone is really tired of war," said Iqbal Khaibar, a 27-year-old medical student who led the procession.

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," he recounted. "When I saw their bleeding and blistered feet, I could not control my tears so I decided to join them."

Before Ramadan, the marchers were walking 18 to 20 miles a day. But because they could not ingest food or water until after dark during the holy month, they later slowed to 12 to 16 miles per day.

Afghanistan has been at war for four decades, since the Soviet invasion in 1979.

The peace activists arrived in Kabul on Monday.
The peace activists arrived in Kabul on Monday.Wakil Kohsar

Both the government and the militants declared temporary cease-fires for the end-of-Ramadan Eid al-Fitr holiday, leading to hugs and selfies between the two sides as militants emerged from their hideouts to enter towns and cities.

The militant group ordered its fighters to "return to their camps and resume their jihadi operations" beginning Sunday night, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior member of the Afghan Taliban also said fighters who took selfies would face "strict action" from their field commanders.

Back in the capital, the peace marchers vowed that their efforts were not over.

"We received support from the people in Kabul as we had expected," participant Badshah Khan said. "Now we will have sit-ins in tents and continue walking to other provinces to get more support."

Ahmed Mengli reported from Kabul, Linda Givetash from London, and Mushtaq Yusufzai from Peshawar, Pakistan.

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