The future for peace in Afghanistan is much brighter
And today, more tears, as 20 people were killed in a suicide attack. They were murdered while watching a wrestling match. And, not long afterward, journalists reporting on the incident were killed in a second, back-to-back attack.
The senseless carnage comes as leaders from the United States and Afghanistan say enough is enough. They are pointing toward those they claim are backing the Taliban as they seek to bring an end to three decades of fighting in Afghanistan.
"It is time for this war in Afghanistan to end," said US Gen. John Nicholson in his last speech as commander of US military in Afghanistan this past week. "President [Ashraf] Ghani's courageous decision to announce a ceasefire [between the Afghan government and the Taliban] over Eid al-Fitr unleashed a strong call in the Afghan people for peace."
Continued Nicholson, "You don't need to keep killing your fellow Afghans. You don't need to keep killing your fellow Muslims. The time for peace is now." He then added, "Whose voice is more important: the outsiders who are encouraging you to fight, or the voice of your own people who are encouraging you to peace?"
And, indeed, the Afghan people are making their voices known. Momentum is building across sectors -- political, military and civil society -- to work toward achieving some kind of end to a seemingly endless war.
Women are at the center of that push for an Afghanistan whose future looks different from its past -- one that holds those backing the Taliban accountable, while charting a way ahead that includes the entire population, not just half.
Recently, female activists spent days poring over a letter they wrote that urges the United Nations to take an active role in stopping the violence. They also asked the UN to investigate those who are funding the violence that the Taliban continues to perpetuate.
"In light of the latest wave of increased violence and targeted killing of innocent civilians across Afghanistan, we women of Afghanistan are writing to urge the United Nations Security Council's (UNSC) members to stand in unity with Afghans and take a strong stance to hold accountable states who are in a way affiliated with, or supporting, aiding and abetting terrorist groups that are waging war against innocent Afghan civilians, especially women and children," said the letter written by nearly two dozen organizations and individuals. "We know there are regional interests and proxies going on in Afghanistan for whom our lives do not matter."
And these women are not new to the fight; they have been working for years on girls' education, the fight to stop violence against women and the battle for women's political representation in Afghanistan.
They are part of the chorus that is speaking up to say enough is enough. The din of voices is not enough in itself to stop the violence. But perhaps public outrage will prove one part of pushing the Taliban and their backers to the peace table.
As the Taliban have shown, they can overrun cities and launch ever more brazen attacks. And we still don't know whether the three-day ceasefire between the Taliban and the government in Kabul this past June was the start of a broader push for peace or a fleeting moment of pause in the fighting before more carnage comes.
There are, however, signs that current battlefield realities plus war weariness among the Afghan public -- alongside the threat of an emergent ISIS in Afghanistan -- may help bring a change for which Afghans have thirsted for decades.
And some Taliban fighters seem to be signaling that an opening for an end to the fight may exist. "We have lost many young Afghans. We have orphans, we have widows -- if people from government die, they are Afghans. If Taliban die, they are Afghans," said Mullah Sher Agha, a Taliban commander who responded to CNN questions about peace talks.
Whether his sentiments will be echoed, and whether regional powers will support them, remains to be seen. What is clear is that a chorus of voices from across the lanes of civil society, the political sphere and the military is growing louder -- speaking up, talking peace and asking neighbors to help -- or, at the least, not hinder them in bringing an end to the war.
For the sake of the bright lights of the next generation and the stability of the region, let us hope that a negotiated settlement in which women are included can be crafted. It is a reach, but it may not be as out of reach as it once was.