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 their Taliban announced their so-called spring offensive, during which the militant group steps up its attacks in Kabul and elsewhere in the war-torn country.
The grand assembly, however, was boycott by opposition political leaders and government critics, including former president Hamid Karzai.
They accused the president of using the grand traditional assembly as a platform to boost his status as he hopes to secure a second term in the presidential election set for September.
Ghani has invited the Taliban to the meeting, but the rejected and urged others to boycott it.
The group also alleged that this is an attempt by the government to deceive the country and extend what the Taliban see as 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, which has held several round of talks with the US in Qatar’s capital Doha, so far rejected a government bid to attend the talks.
US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad signaled progress in the talks last month, saying the two sides have reached an “agreement in draft” on the issues of troops withdrawal and counter-terrorism assurances.
US, Taliban laud ‘progress’ in latest round of talks in DohaThe US and Taliban negotiators have ended their latest round of negotiations in Doha, with both sides hailing progress in talks.
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 were 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 in the country.
US forces have remained bogged down in Afghanistan through the presidencies of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump.