Thousands gather in Kabul for consultative Loya Jirga on peace



Afghan men pray as they attend the first day of the consultative Loya Jirga in Kabul April 29. Thousands of politicians and officials from across Afghanistan gathered amid tight security to discuss the war and US efforts to forge a peace deal with the Taliban. [STR/AFP]

KABUL -- Thousands of politicians and officials from across Afghanistan gathered amid tight security in Kabul Monday (April 29) to discuss the war and efforts by the United States to forge a peace deal with the Taliban.

More than 3,000 participants have been invited to the rare consultative Loya Jirga, which is being billed as the largest in modern Afghan history, in a bid to set possible conditions under which they might accept a peace settlement.

The Loya Jirga is being held as the United States and the Taliban discuss a possible foreign-troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in exchange for a permanent ceasefire and various Taliban pledges. President Ashraf Ghani's government is seeking to join the talks.

"We want to specify the main lines for the negotiations with the Taliban," Ghani said at the start of the summit. "We want clear advice from all of you."


Mohammad Umer Daudzai, President Ashraf Ghani's special representative for regional affairs for consensus on peace, is shown speaking in a photo published March 18. He led a commission responsible for convening the consultative Loya Jirga that began April 29. [Afghan High Peace Council/Facebook]

Ghani's government hopes the high-stakes meeting will set out Kabul's conditions for any deal, including the continuation of the constitution and the protection of women's rights, the media and free speech.

Taliban refuse to participate

Ghani had invited the Taliban, but the insurgents, who have been fighting since 2001, refused.

"Why don't you want to talk to Afghans?" Ghani asked the Taliban.

Much of Kabul was locked down Monday, with a week-long public holiday declared for the duration of the four-day event.

Streets across the capital were closed and hilly overlooks were blocked. In the past, the Taliban have blasted rockets at a tent hosting a Loya Jirga.

In a statement, the Taliban vowed that any decisions or resolutions made at a Loya Jirga were "never acceptable" to them.

The most recent jirga was held in 2013, when Afghan officials endorsed a security agreement that allowed US troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond their planned withdrawal in 2014.

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