Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga agrees to free Taliban inmates, paving way for talks

A “Loya Jirga”, or the grand assembly, in Afghanistan on Sunday advised the government to release 400 Taliban prisoners that removed the main hurdle in the start of the negotiations between the Taliban and the government.

The Afghan government had earlier refused to release 400 Taliban prisoners because of their involvement in the major crimes.

Taliban had declined to join the intra-Afghan negotiations unless all their 5,000 prisoners are freed under their agreement with the United States signed in February.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had called the Jirga to decide the fate of the 400 prisoners as he had insisted he had no powers to release them because of the nature of their crimes.

The Jirga, after two days of deliberations, on Sunday issued a communique, calling for the release of the Taliban prisoners to push the peace process.

Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said Taliban will start intra-Afghan dialogue in a week after prisoners are out of the jail. Talking to the media Shaheen described the jirga’s decision on prisoners as “positive.” The talks between the Taliban and the government were scheduled to start on March 10 under the Taliban-US agreement signed in February, but Taliban refused to join the process until their 5,000 prisoners were freed.

The jirga also called upon the Taliban to release all government’s prisoners.

Taliban have already completed the process of the release of 1,000 prisoners of the Afghan government, according to the Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen. President Ghani in his speech urged the Taliban to declare ceasefire, adding that he accepts the jirga appeal for a comprehensive ceasefire. He said he has got assurance from the international community that they have not reached any secret agreement with the Taliban.

Pakistan on Sunday welcomed the Afghan Loya Jirga’s recommendation to release the remaining 400 prisoners. “We hope that with implementation of this step relating to the prisoners’ release, as envisaged in the U.S.-Taliban Peace Agreement, the Intra-Afghan Negotiations will commence at the earliest,” the Foreign Office said.

A statement said Pakistan has repeatedly emphasized that the Afghan leaders must seize this historic opportunity and work together constructively through Intra-Afghan Negotiations to secure a comprehensive, broad-based and inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan.

For its part, Pakistan has consistently supported an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process. Pakistan’s positive contribution to the process is internationally recognized. The Loya Jirga was attended by some 3,400 delegates including 700 women from across the country, according to the organizers. Special Representatives of the Pakistani Prime Minister on Afghanistan Mohammad Sadiq also welcomed the Loya Jirga’s recommendations to President Ashraf Ghani.

Dr Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, who presided over the Jirga called on Taliban to honor their commitment and immediately begin the long-awaited intra-Afghan talks, announce permanent ceasefire, abandon violence and demonstrate willingness to resolve the current issues through peaceful dialogue.

Abdullah in a series of tweets said the Consultative Peace Jirga unanimously, among others, supported the peace efforts, called for lasting & dignified peace and approved the release of the remaining 400 Taliban prisoners, called for an immediate & permanent ceasefire, the start of intra-Afghan talks, & an end to the war.

Former president Hamid Karzai also spoke at the concluding session, who pressed the Taliban to stop fighting and start the negotiations.

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