Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga urges both govt., Taliban to announce ceasefire

Attendees at Afghanistan’s most important national gathering have urged ceasefire between the government and the Taliban militant group as a foretaste to a potential peace deal.

Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, wound down in the capital Kabul on Thursday following days of discussion among the thousand-strong politicians, religious leaders and representatives from across the country. The centuries-old assembly convenes in the event of national crises or to address momentous issues.

The gathering seeks to address the rampant violence, which has been waged for decades by the Taliban against Afghan people and officials, and has been worsened since 2001, when the United States ousted the militants when Washington invaded Afghanistan.

“We are here to urge both sides to announce a ceasefire. The war will end only when both sides stop fighting before they sign a permanent peace agreement,” said Abdul Hannan, a member of one the committees, who had traveled from the south to attend the assembly.

“Every day, Afghans are being killed without any reason. An unconditional ceasefire must be announced,” said Mohammad Qureshi, head of another committee.

“It is you, who will show the government the way towards peace and the government will do what you demand,” Jirga chairman Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf said, apparently appealing to the nation to pool its resources to bring about peace.

Others, meanwhile, urged that any potential peace should not come about at the cost of free speech, women’s right or the right to vote.

The Taliban, which were not present at Jirga meeting, shun talks with the government, calling it a US puppet.

They have called for all foreign forces to leave the country before the militants would revisit their approach.

Many rounds of talks between the group and Washington have stopped far short of any agreement foreseeing foreign forces’ withdrawal.

Most recently, the Taliban and the US resumed a new round of negotiations, excluding Kabul, in Qatar’s capital of Doha, where the militant group runs a representative office.

During the fifth round of their talks in Doha, which ended in mid-March, the two sides “agreed in draft” on the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in return for preventing the country’s soil from being used as a hub for terrorism.

The group, however, recently announced the beginning of its spring offensive in Afghanistan, despite involvement in the talks with the US.