By Mujeeb R. Awrang
KABUL: The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad said that after 4o years of war, a historic opportunity for peace in Afghanistan “is now” possible that would benefit all Afghans, contribute regional stability and world security.
“We welcome the Afghan Loya Jirga’s declaration and President Ghani’s decision to sign the decree ordering the release of the remaining prisoners,” he said in a tweet, following the suggestion of tradition assembly “Consultative Loya Jirg” for releasing the 400 Taliban prisoners to lay out intra-Afghan negotiations.
President Ashraf Ghani called over 3,000 representatives from across the country in a format of a Loya Jirga to approve whether to hold or release the 400 militants, whom the government said were charged with major crimes such as robbery, murdering and sexual assaults alleged crimes. Ghani said the decision to set free these dangerous prisoners was out of his authority.
The US and Taliban peace deal signed on February 29th in Doha that also started a phased withdrawal of the American Forces, calls for the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners in return for the 1,000 Afghan security forces. However, the release of 5,000 militants faced Afghan government’s opposition, the consecutive pressure on Ghan’s administration by the US diplomats pushed the process to a phase release.
As the Afghans are worried about the violation of achievements gained during the past two decades, Khalilzad announced that the US supported a sovereign, unified and democratic Afghanistan which would be in peace with itself and its neighbors. “Today we are one step closer,” he said, referring to the recent progress in the peace process. “As we have supported the Afghan people for the past 19 years, so do we now support Afghan men and women to achieve the sustainable peace for which they have long years.”
According to him the intra-Afghan negotiations would be started in the near future with the government negotiation team traveling to Doha after the completion of prisoner releases.
He said the negotiation sides would work on a process to reach an agreement on a political roadmap and a permanent ceasefire- an offer the Afghan government insisted for months even before releasing the 5,000 Taliban prisoners.
The decision made by the three-day tradition assembly was welcomed by Afghan officials and international communities as well as the US.
US Charge d’Affaires, Ross Wilson said that the US supported democratic, sovereign and united Afghanistan in peace with “itself and its neighbors”. “The intra-Afghan negotiations should and will be Afghan owned and Afghan led,” Wilson said.
He said that the US remained committed to the enduring partnership with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.