A historic loya jirga peace summit in Kabul ended yesterday with delegates from across Afghanistan demanding an immediate and permanent ceasefire, and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani saying that he is conditionally prepared to implement the call.
This week’s loya jirga, or grand assembly, saw about 3,200 religious and tribal leaders, politicians and representatives try to find a breakthrough in Afghanistan’s grueling 18-year conflict.
“The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban movement should declare and implement an immediate and permanent ceasefire,” delegates said in a declaration.
The ceasefire should start at the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, which gets under way in the coming days, they added.
Ghani said he was “prepared to implement the fair and legitimate demand” for a ceasefire, but stressed that it “cannot be one-sided.”
“If the Taliban are fully ready for a ceasefire, then we can talk about the technical details,” Ghani said in a speech.
He also promised to release 175 Taliban prisoners as a gesture of “goodwill.”
There was no immediate response from the Taliban, which is negotiating in separate talks with a US peace envoy in Qatar.
The insurgent group has so far refused to even speak with Ghani, who they view as a US stooge.
However, last year the Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire at the end of Ramadan after Ghani declared a unilateral ceasefire for eight days earlier in the month.
It was first formal nationwide ceasefire since the US-led invasion of 2001 and saw unprecedented scenes of reconciliation and jubilation across the country.
This week’s jirga was a remarkable gathering of Afghans from many walks of life. Emotions rode high with attendees sharing tears, recriminations and at least one fist fight as they revisited the horrors of Afghanistan’s recent past.
The talks between the Taliban and US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad focused on a potential deal that would see the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan in return for the Taliban guaranteeing terrorist groups could no longer operate in the country.
Huge swathes of Afghan society worry that if the US does make a deal with the Taliban, militants would try to seize power and undo advances in women’s rights, media freedoms and legal protections.
Such concerns were prominent at the jirga, where hundreds of women were in attendance outlining their “red lines” for any negotiations with the Taliban.
“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.
The Taliban on Twitter said that Khalilzad “should forget about the idea of us putting down our arms.”
“Instead of such fantasies, he should drive the idea home [to the US] about ending the use of force & incurring further human & financial losses for the decaying Kabul administration,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted.
The jirga proved controversial, with opposition figures slamming it as a campaign event for Ghani.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s war rages on, with thousands of civilians and fighters being killed each year.
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