Kabul, Aug 7 (efe-epa).- A grand consultative meeting of tribal elders, community leaders, and politicians began in Afghanistan on Friday to discuss the fate of 400 controversial Taliban prisoners, whose release will pave the way for intra-Afghan talks between the government and rebels.
More than 3,200 participants from various social groups and political parties from across the country are attending the grand assembly, also known as loya jirga, in Kabul under tight security measures.
Some 30 percent of the participants are women.
The meeting convened by the government will advise President Ashraf Ghani on the release of the Taliban prisoners.
“Your decision is very important. It will be better to decide today or tomorrow so that the direct intra-Afghan talks can be started between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban,” Ghani said in his inauguration speech.
As per the US-Taliban peace agreement, signed in February in Doha, the government was to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for the rebels freeing 1,000 of its captives by Mar. 10 as a precursor to intra-Afghan talks.
However, it took the government almost five months to release 4,600 prisoners as per a Taliban list in a lengthy process beset with disagreements.
The government has withheld the release of the remaining 400 inmates as they are accused of serious crimes such as murder, kidnapping, and drug smuggling.
“These 400 prisoners have heavy (criminal) records. (…) Based on the instructions of the national constitution, the release of these 400 prisoners is not in the authority of the president of Afghanistan,” Ghani said.
He said the Taliban had threatened to continue the war and even intensify it unless the prisoners were released, but agreed to participate in direct talks with government negotiators within three days if the release goes through.
“Today we are gathered here to discuss on the price of negotiations and peace,” said the president, insisting that the jirga was a symbol of national unity and that peace would not be allowed to cause “the division of this united nation.”
Abdullah Abdullah, Ghani’s rival in the presidential election who was appointed as the head of the high council for national reconciliation in a power-sharing agreement in May, was elected as the chairman of the jirga that is expected to continue for three days.
“Your collective decision will be a key to open a way toward peace,” Abdullah said.
The assembly was summoned within four days, the quickest in the past 19 years, and is considered a continuation of the previous loya jirga held in April 2019.
The previous grand assembly’s discussions were focused on safeguarding the national achievements of the last two decades such as democracy, a democratic political system, building trust with the Taliban, and the prisoner release.
Ghani claimed that 90 percent of the recommendations of the previous jirga had been implemented.
Strict security arrangements were in place in Kabul for the assembly, with thousands of troops deployed around the venue and all roads leading to it being blocked for general traffic. EFE-EPA