Thousands gather in Kabul for Afghan peace meeting

Thousands gather in Kabul for Afghan peace meeting

KABUL, Thousands of tribal leaders, religious

figures and politicians from across Afghanistan gathered Monday in Kabul amid

tight security to discuss the war and American efforts to forge a peace deal

with the Taliban.

More than 3,000 people were attending the rare 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 � literally grand assembly in Pashto � is being held

over four days as the US and Taliban are discussing a possible foreign troop

withdrawal from Afghanistan in exchange for a permanent ceasefire and various

Taliban pledges.

We want to specify the main lines for the negotiations with the Taliban,

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said at the start of the summit. We want clear

advice from all of you.

The jirga is seen as an attempt by the Afghan government to influence the

peace talks between the US and the Taliban aimed at ending more than 17 years

of conflict.

So far, however, the talks have cut out Ghani, whom the Taliban view as a

US stooge.

Come to any part of the country for talks, why don't you want to talk to

Afghans? Ghani said, addressing the Taliban, who have boycotted the jirga.

We are ready to talk to you without any preconditions.

Highlevel boycotts �

Ghani's government hopes the highstakes meeting will define Kabul's

conditions for any deal, including the continuation of the constitution and

the protection of women's rights, the media, and free speech.

But some prominent Afghans, presidential hopefuls and government officials

including the country's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah have boycotted the

assembly.

They have criticised it as an attempt by Ghani to boost his standings ahead

of presidential elections slated for September.

Much of Kabul was locked down Monday, with a weeklong public holiday

declared for the duration of the fourday event.

Streets across the capital were closed and hilly overlooks blocked. In the

past, the Taliban have blasted rockets at a tent hosting a loya jirga.

In a statement, the Taliban have vowed that any decisions or resolutions

made at a loya jirga are never acceptable to the real and devout sons of

this homeland.

The insurgents now control or influence about half of Afghanistan. They

announced the start of their annual spring offensive early this month,

despite talks with US representatives � dashing hopes for a quick ceasefire

in the warravaged country.

The loya jirga is a centuriesold tradition in Afghanistan that has been

convened at times of national crisis or to settle big issues.

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.

Delegates this year have split into various committees to discuss

negotiating points for future talks with the Taliban. The summit's results

are due to be announced Thursday.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)