Afghanistan loya jirga demands ‘immediate and permanent’ ceasefire

KABUL (AA): A historic “loya jirga” peace summit in Kabul ended Friday with delegates from across Afghanistan demanding an immediate and permanent ceasefire, and President Ashraf Ghani saying he was conditionally prepared to implement the call.

This week’s loya jirga, or grand assembly, saw about 3,200 religious and tribal leaders, politicians and representatives try to find a breakthrough in Afghanistan’s gruelling conflict, which is now in its 18th year.

“The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban movement should declare and implement an immediate and permanent ceasefire,” delegates said in a declaration at the end of the jirga.

They said the ceasefire should start at the beginning of the holy month of Ramazan, which gets underway in the coming days.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he was “prepared to implement the fair and legitimate demand” for a ceasefire but stressed it “cannot be one-sided”.

“If the Taliban are fully ready for a ceasefire, then we can talk about the technical details,” Ghani said in a speech.

There was no immediate response from the Taliban, who currently are negotiating in separate talks with a US peace envoy in Qatar.

The insurgent group has so far refused to even speak with Ghani, who they view as an American stooge.

However, last year the Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire at the end of Ramazan after Ghani declared a unilateral ceasefire for eight days earlier in the month.

It was first formal nationwide ceasefire since the US-led invasion of 2001 and saw unprecedented scenes of reconciliation and jubilation in Kabul and across the country.

This week’s jirga was a remarkable gathering of Afghans from many walks of life. Emotions rode high with attendees sharing tears, recriminations and at least one fist fight as they revisited the horrors of Afghanistan’s recent past.

Taliban talks in Doha

The talks between the Taliban and US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad this week focus on a potential deal that would see the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan in return for the Taliban guaranteeing terrorist groups could no longer operate in the country.

Huge swathes of Afghan society worry that if the US does make a deal with the Taliban, the militant would try to seize power and undo advances in women’s rights, media freedoms, and legal protections.

Such concerns were prominent at the jirga, where hundreds of women were in attendance outlining their “red lines” for any negotiations with the Taliban.

“We don’t want such a peace that women’s rights are not respected, freedom of expression are not ensured, elections are not held,” committee member Faizullah Jalal told the summit.

Khalilzad said on Twitter that he told the Taliban “that the Afghan people, who are their brothers & sisters, want this war to end. It is time to put down arms, stop the violence, & embrace peace.”

The jirga proved controversial, with opposition figures slamming it as an election campaign event for Ghani.

Among those boycotting were Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a notorious former warlord. Both men are running for president in elections slated for September.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s war rages on, with thousands of civilians and fighters being killed each year.

US forces continue to train Afghan partners on the ground and strike the Taliban from the air, in a bid to push the war to a political settlement.