Kabul, Afghanistan – Sahar Begum remembers the moment she heard the news of her husband’s death in 2014.
Amin Karimi, a member of the Afghan security forces, was killed in a fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz province.
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Married for seven years, the couple was happily raising a son and daughter, now four and six years old.
“The first thing I asked myself was how would I be able to take care of my children alone? Who will feed them?” said Begun.
“But with time, I realised, I have to take charge and work to be able to feed my children.”
She works 10 hours a day in a beauty salon in Shahr-e-Naw, a neighbourhood of northwest Kabul. She lives in one room with her children in a shared apartment a few metres away.
They eat and sleep in the room; there is a small cooker in the corner with a few cooking tools
“My life is not easy, but at least I can go out and work for my children. During the Taliban regime, women could not step out of their homes, which left many women at the mercy of other people,” Begum told Al Jazeera.
The fifth round of peace talks between US officials and Taliban representatives are expected to take place on February 25 in Doha, Qatar, in a bid to find a solution to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan. But with an acute sense of insecurity reeling through the country, Afghans are demanding that the meeting leads to long-lasting peace.
“Whether the Taliban come back or not, whether the US troops leave or not, I want peace, I want to be able to continue working for my children,” said Begum, who is now 29.
For other Afghans, as the momentum for peace talks build, two issues make them concerned about their future: the withdrawal of foreign troops and the return of the Taliban.
Haji Purdil, 59, who fought against the Soviets when they invaded Afghanistan in 1979, says it is time for US troops to leave Afghanistan and the Taliban to return as a political party.
“We don’t want to have foreigners as invaders in our country, we want to see these foreigners as tourists, enjoying what Afghanistan has to offer,” Purdil said.
“But if US troops leave and the Taliban return, they should only make a comeback as a political party and not militants. That is when peace will come to this country.”
In recent years, the Taliban has been attempting to strike a moderate tone on issues such as women’s education and their right to work.
The spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Suhail Shaheen, said in a statement last month that the group wants to coexist with Afghan institutions.
And in a meeting with Afghan opposition leaders in Moscow earlier this month, the Taliban came face-to-face with women demanding their rights.
return as a political group and work on developing the country, they will soon find supporters in the main cities of the country, like Kabul.”]
Human rights advocate Hawa Nooristani and former parliament member Fawzia Koofi were the first women to participate in talks with the Taliban.
Koofi, addressing members of the group in round-table talks, urged them to listen to Afghans and adapt to the current dynamics of Afghan society.
“We have come a very long way and we don’t want to go back,” she said.
Mohammed Hassan, a 36-year-old teacher in Kabul, believes that the Taliban have learned from past mistakes during their leadership from 1996 until 2001, when a US-led invasion toppled the group.
“The Taliban know that many things have changed in the country during these 17 years, so we are not expecting them to repeat the same mistakes,” he said.
“It will be difficult to win the hearts of Afghans this time because of their track record, but if they return as a political group and work on developing the country, they will soon find supporters in the main cities of the country, like Kabul.”
But there are also many like Abdul Wahid Sadequi, a businessman who runs an antiques shop in Kabul who worries that dealing with the Taliban in a bid to bring peace, while excluding the Afghan government, could backfire.
So far, the Taliban have refused to hold talks with Afghan officials and have stressed on speaking only with the United States.
But US officials are attempting to push the Taliban to speak to Afghan officials.
“The Taliban don’t want to talk with the Afghan government and are only dealing with the US to get what they want, and that is the withdrawal of the troops,” he said.
“But once that is done, is peace finally coming to Afghanistan?”