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Iran Press TV

Afghanistan kicks off grand peace assembly in Kabul under tight security

Iran Press TV

Mon Apr 29, 2019 09:37AM

Thousands of Afghans have got together under tight security in the capital Kabul to hold four days of negotiations aimed at finding ways to strike a peace deal with the Taliban militant group.

President Ashraf Ghani opened the rare gathering, known as a Loya Jirga, under a huge tent in central Kabul on Monday, with some 3,200 tribal elders as well as senior community and religious figures from all over the country in attendance.

"It is a proud moment for me to have representatives from all over the country here and today we are gathered to speak about the peace talks," Ghani said in the opening ceremony.

Much of the capital has been locked down under security measures for the event, which started weeks after the Taliban announced their so-called spring offensive, during which the militant group steps up its attacks across the country.

Opposition leaders and government critics, including former president Hamid Karzai, have however boycotted the event.

They accuse the president of using the grand traditional assembly as a platform to boost his status in anticipation of winning a second term in the presidential election set for September.

Ghani has invited the Taliban, but the militants have rejected the offer and urged others to boycott it.

The group has also alleged that this is an attempt by the government to deceive the country and extend its 'illegitimate rule.'

"Do not participate in the enemy's conspiracy under the name of Jirga; instead find ways to further sideline the shaky administration of Kabul," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

The Taliban has, however, held several rounds of talks with the US in Qatar's capital Doha.

US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad signaled progress in the talks last month, saying the two sides had reached an "agreement in draft" on the issues of troops withdrawal and counter-terrorism assurances.

Conversely, he said in an interview with Afghanistan's largest private television station, Tolo News, that "No agreement will be done if we don't see a permanent ceasefire and a commitment to end the war."

"If the Taliban insist on going back to the system they used to have, in my personal opinion, it means the continuation of war, not peace," he said.

The Taliban's demands are focused on the withdrawal of US forces from the country.

"We are seeking peace and [a] political settlement... We want peace to give us the possibility to withdraw," Khalilzad added.

The Taliban's five-year rule over at least three quarters of Afghanistan came to an end following the US-led invasion in 2001, but 18 years on, Washington is seeking truce with the militants, who still control large swathes of land.

US forces have remained bogged down in Afghanistan through the presidencies of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump.

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