Afghan loya jirga met with mixed reactions

KABUL (Agencies): The Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, was held on Friday with over 3,200 delegates and has been met with mixed reactions, with many people calling it “symbolic” and saying that the government leaders should not impede the peace process with such special measures.

The Jirga was held to decide the fate of the 400 Taliban prisoners who are accused of serious crimes.

According to government data, 156 of them have been sentenced to death, 105 of them are accused of murder, 34 of them are accused of kidnaping that led to murder, 51 of them are accused of drug smuggling, 44 of them are on the blacklist of the Afghan government and its allies, 6 of them are accused of other crimes, 4 are unknown.

The list of 5,000 prisoners was given to the Afghan government by the Taliban to be released ahead of intra-Afghan negotiations that are expected to be held in Doha.

So far, the government has released 4,600 of the prisoners on the Taliban list, and an additional 500 who were not on the Taliban list.

These last 500 were freed during Eid in response to the Taliban’s announcement of a ceasefire.

“The prisoners are the citizens of our own country. The Jirga should agree on their release,” said Abdul Rahman, a Kabul resident.

“The government is spending Afs330 million ($4.2 million) for the Jirga while we are living under the poverty line,” said Hashmatullah Rahimi, a Kabul resident.

Security force members who have been assigned to ensure the safety of the two-day Loya Jirga said they hope for an enduring peace and an end to violence.

“They should come and make peace and end the calamity and war in the country,” said Amrullah, a lecturer at Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim Military Academy.

“We have been here for the last three days and we hope that the Jirga will help peace in our country,” said Samim-Ur-Rahman, an Army soldier.

A number of police force members who are also assigned to ensure the security of the grand assembly said they have not been paid for the last two months but added that they remain hopeful that violence will end in the country.

“Our salaries were paid every month, but we have not been paid for the last one and a half months,” said Toofan, a police officer.

“We are always making efforts to ensure a safe and peaceful environment for our countrymen,” said Fayaz, a police officer.

In his Friday speech, Ghani stopped short of blaming the U.S.-Taliban pact for the controversy surrounding the prisoner swap.

The U.S. excluded the Afghan government from the dialogue with the Taliban that led to the signing of the February 29 agreement in Doha, Qatar.

“I will say very clearly that the problem is not in numbers. We are not part of the agreement that was signed in Doha between U.S and Taliban,” said the Afghan president.

U.S. special reconciliation envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated the deal with the Taliban, stressed Friday that Afghan parties are ready to embark on a political process to negotiate a settlement and they all must seize the “historic opportunity” to end decades of hostilities in the country.

In a series of tweets issued just before the Loya Jirga started in Kabul, the U.S. envoy cautioned the participants not to further complicate matters ahead of the impending peace talks.

“Afghans have waited far too long for this mo-ment. We wish the Jirga p-articipants success in their discussions and urge them not to allow those who prefer the status quo and seek to complicate the path to peace to manipulate the p-rocess,” Khalilzad stressed.