The largest gathering of Afghanistan’s loya jirga or grand assembly, convened by President Ashraf Ghani to discuss peace with the Taliban, ended on Friday with a unanimous call for the insurgents to observe an immediate and permanent ceasefire.

The loya jirga is a traditional method of reaching a democratic consensus among Afghans on matters of national interest, bringing together prominent members of society such as politicians, religious leaders, tribal elders and civic representatives. The last such assembly was held in 2013 to discuss extending the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan.

This assembly was convened to discuss the peace negotiations with the Taliban, who have waged a bloody insurgency since the fall of their regime in 2001. The council passed a 23-point resolution which included demands to end violence, preserve women’s rights, open a Taliban political office in the country, open direct talks between the insurgents and the government, and setting a timeline for a “responsible” withdrawal of foreign forces.

As a peace gesture, President Ghani announced in his closing remarks that the Afghan government would release 175 Taliban prisoners for Ramadan. “I would like the Taliban to send their representatives to Kabul or any other city of Afghanistan so that these Taliban prisoners can be handed over in the true Afghan way. This is a gift of Islamic and human gesture,” Mr Ghani said.

He also urged the Taliban’s Committee for Prisoners to come forward for talks on the fate of the remaining prisoners.

President Ashraf Ghani addresses the loya jirga, or consultative grand assembly, on its first day on April 29, 2019. Reuters
President Ashraf Ghani addresses the loya jirga, or consultative grand assembly, on its first day on April 29, 2019. Reuters

The jirga was boycotted by many opposition leaders including Abdullah Abdullah, who holds the post of chief executive under a power-sharing arrangement with Mr Ghani. Former president Hamid Karzai last week voiced concerns that Mr Ghani had called the meeting to bolster his bid for re-election later this year.

Despite this, the assembly drew more than 3,500 participants from across the country who discussed various issues related to the peace talks over five days.

“This jirga showed that the Afghan people are united, smart, aware and intelligent and we unanimously, in one voice, seek to preserve all the achievements we made in the last 18 years,” Sahera Sharif, an MP from Khost province, told The National.

“Through the jirga, we were also able to establish that the national interest and unity are more important and valuable to us than ethnic and gender divisions.”

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