An Afghan grand council organised by President Ashraf Ghani has called for an “unconditional ceasefire”, as the United States began the sixth round of peace talks with the Taliban in the Qatari capital Doha.
President Ghani convened the council of more than 3,200 participants, known as loya jirga, in the capital Kabul to hammer out a common strategy. The Taliban was not invited to the four-day Kabul gathering that ends on Friday.
Afghan leaders hold congress over peace moves involving Taliban
A number of prominent Afghans, including Ghani’s partner in the unity government, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and former President Hamid Karzai are among a number of senior figures boycotting the gathering, accusing the president of using it for political ends ahead of presidential elections scheduled for September 28. Ghani refuted the allegations.
Ghani has been excluded from the crucial Doha talks at the insistence of the Taliban, which views the West-backed government in Kabul as a puppet regime.
The Taliban has waged a bloody armed rebellion since 2001 when the US-led military coalition overthrew them from power.
The Trump administration has been engaging with the armed group, which claims control over significant territory, as it seeks to end the US’s longest war.
On Wednesday, US peace envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad met cofounder of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in a bid to make a deal with Washington that could see the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country.
The Taliban fighters have exacted a heavy toll on Afghan security forces, civilians and US-led NATO forces, with 3,804 civilians killed in 2018 – the deadliest year since 2001.
The participants of the jirga, divided into dozens of committees, discussed several issues, including a ceasefire in the 18-year-old war and women’s rights.
While the full results of the summit may not be announced until Friday, several committee leaders said they wanted to see an immediate pause in violence, which has continued apace across Afghanistan even with various peace summits taking place.
“Every day, Afghans are being killed without any reason. An unconditional ceasefire must be announced,” Mohammad Qureshi, head of one of the jirga’s many committees, told AFP news agency.
Part of the members of Afghan society worry that if the US does make a deal with the Taliban, the armed group would try to seize power and undo the progress made on women’s rights, media freedoms and legal protections in the country.
“We don’t want such a peace that women’s rights are not respected, freedom of expression are not ensured, elections are not held,” committee member Faizullah Jalal told the summit.
Afghan women have expressed concern about being sidelined from the peace process and fear the Taliban could try to reimpose the harsh restrictions that kept them from schools and the workforce during the group’s rule.
A huge number of Afghan women are part of the peace summit.
Jirga chairman Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf said the summit was not aimed at supporting any particular candidate for the September presidential elections.
The loya jirga is a centuries-old tradition in Afghanistan that has been convened at times of national crisis or to settle big issues.