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August 8, 2020

Afghan grand assembly gathers to decide fate of Taliban prisoners

World

 
August 8, 2020

KABUL: Thousands of Afghan elders, community leaders and politicians gathered on Friday to debate whether the government should release 400 hard-core Taliban prisoners, a move that would likely quickly clear the path for peace talks.

Some 3,200 people have been invited to the grand assembly, known as a Loya Jirga, in Kabul amid tight security and the coronavirus pandemic, to debate for at least three days and then advise the government on whether the prisoners should be freed.

President Ashraf Ghani addressed the meeting as it opened, saying that the Taliban had said once the 400 prisoners were released they would start negotiations within three days and commit to a ceasefire. The Taliban did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation of this.

As part of a February pact between the United States and the Taliban allowing for the withdrawal of US troops, it was agreed that some 5,000 Taliban prisoners should be released from Afghan jails as a condition for talks between the militants and the US-backed government.

The government has released all but some 400 militants it says have been involved in some of the worst crimes including major attacks such as the 2017 truck bombing near the Germany Embassy in Kabul.

Six Loya Jirga committee leaders and members told media that based on preliminary conversations they expected the majority to vote in favour of freeing the prisoners, though they would only be able to confirm that after the meetings took place.

“If releasing 400 would result in stopping bloodshed, then so be it,” said a Jirga member who heads one of the committees.

Pompeo urges key Afghan gathering to free Taliban prisoners: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged prominent Afghans holding a major meeting Friday to free Taliban prisoners, promising help if the war-torn nation moves forward on peace efforts. “We acknowledge that the release of these prisoners is unpopular,” Pompeo said in a statement. “But this difficult action will lead to an important result long sought by Afghans and Afghanistan´s friends: reduction of violence and direct talks resulting in a peace agreement and an end to the war.

In a statement unthinkable after the September 11, 2001 attacks triggered the US invasion, the top US diplomat told Afghan leaders that the Taliban were committed to reducing violence after talks start.