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Loya Jirga begins consultation on release of 400 Taliban prisoners

– Jirga participants could remove last hurdle to direct peace talks

– US sees Loya Jirga as historic opportunity for peace

– Taliban ready to start intra-Afghan talks in three days if their 400 prisoners release

– Those who think they can win through war are “wrong” and “mistaken”

AT News

KABUL: Over three thousands of Afghans from all parts of the country began a three-day gathering in Kabul on Friday to decide whether to release 400 Taliban intimates – the last hurdle to starting intra-Afghan negotiations under a peace deal with the US. The negotiations are a critical step toward a lasting peace in Afghanistan.

The Loya Jirga has begun with tight security measures in place in Kabul, the capital city due to the fragile security situation.

Around 3,200 people—men and women, participated in the Jirga and they will discuss in details whether to suggest motion on the release of 400 controversial Taliban inmates, who were involved in many big attacks, including having rape charges.

President Ashraf Ghani at the opening of Peace Consultative Loya Jirga said that based on the Constitution, the release of these 400 prisoners is not within the authority of the president of Afghanistan. The Loya Jirga members have an important responsibility when it comes to the release of these inmates.

He also talked about the international allies for their principled position and appreciated their support for the peace program in Afghanistan. Bilqis Roshan, an MP from Farah province, raised a banner reading “Giving ransom to wild Taliban is a national betrayal” during President Ghani’s speech, in which the president responded, “I’m not the one giving ransom, you convince your colleagues”.

The Taliban are ready to start direct talks with Afghan peace force and civil society faction within three days once these 400 prisoners are being released. According to Ghani, the Taliban have also warned to continue bloodshed if these inmates are not freed.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the head of High Council of National Reconciliation, and Chairman of the Loya Jirga, said that those who think they can win through war are wrong and mistaken. “I urge them to re-think.” He said that the only way forward for resolving the current crisis is through honest and direct talks. It is our religious and national obligation to put an end to the suffering of our people.”

He said that releasing the Taliban prisoners was a difficult decision for the government, but it is even more difficult to decide about the remaining 400 prisoners. “Hence, the Afghan leadership decided to call for the Jirga and consult you before making the final decision.”

“We have to remove all the remaining obstacles and start the long-awaited intra-Afghan talks as soon as possible,” Abdullah said.

He said there is a need to have a stable and democratic Afghanistan, which lives in “peace internally” and with its neighbors, free from “terrorism”.

Marshal Dustom also welcomed the Peace Consultative Jirga, which is held solely for the release of the Taliban prisoners and the immediate start of intra-Afghan talks. “I hope that the Jirga participants will provide favourable advice on the release of the remaining 400 Taliban,” he said.

US Secretary Pompeo in a statement commended the participants of the Loya Jirga to be convened on August 7 to consolidate national support for peace.

“We understand that they will decide on the expeditious release of the remaining Taliban prisoners from their list, the last obstacle to the start of intra-Afghan negotiations.”

Following the timely release of these prisoners, the Taliban have committed to enter talks with the national team representing the strength and diversity of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the statement said.

The Taliban have also committed to significantly reduce violence and casualties during the talks where the parties will decide on a political roadmap to end the long and brutal war and agree on a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.  The United States intends to hold the Taliban to these commitments, according to the statement

“We acknowledge that the release of these prisoners is unpopular. But this difficult action will lead to an important result long sought by Afghans and Afghanistan’s friends: reduction of violence and direct talks resulting in a peace agreement and an end to the war. After 40 years of war and bloodshed and destruction, the parties are ready to embark on a political process to reach a negotiated settlement.”

The United States urges President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah, the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, and other Afghan leaders, including participants of the Loya Jirga, to take advantage of this historic opportunity for a peace that benefits all Afghans and contributes to regional stability and global security, he quoted in the statement as saying.

“The Trump Administration remains committed to our partnership with Afghanistan.  As ever, the United States seeks a sovereign, unified, and democratic Afghanistan that is at peace with itself and its neighbors. At the same time we are committed to reducing the burden on the U.S. taxpayer and the risk to U.S. troops.”

While the future of Afghanistan is for Afghans to decide, we strongly support the preservation and advancement of the social, economic, and political gains made since 2001, he added. “These gains include Afghanistan’s democratic development and the protection and expansion of the human rights of all Afghans, including women, children, and minorities.”

“While the decisions and conduct of both parties to intra-Afghan negotiations will affect the size and scope of future U.S. assistance, the United States affirms its support for a sustainable peace and an enduring partnership with Afghanistan,” he added.

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