Thousands of Afghan elders, community leaders and politicians have gathered in the capital Kabul to decide whether the last 400 Taliban prisoners will be released as part of a peace agreement signed between the armed group and the United States.
An agreement by US and Taliban negotiators in Doha in February stipulates that 5,000 Taliban prisoners should be released from Afghan jails as a precondition to the armed group entering peace talks with the internationally-recognised government.
President Ashraf Ghani’s government has released all but 400, saying their crimes were too grave.
Some 3,200 people have been invited to the Loya Jirga in Kabul amid tight security on Friday to debate for at least three days and then advise the government on whether the prisoners should be freed.
“These 400 are those who have been convicted in killings from two to 40 people, drug trafficking, those sentenced to death and involved in major crimes, including kidnapping,” Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the president, said.
While many Afghans see the peace effort as the best hope for ending the 19-year war with the Taliban, some are concerned about the militants’ commitment to reconciliation, especially after the US completes its troop withdrawal.
According to Sediqqi, the council will also decide “what kind of peace it wants”.
US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, the architect of the deal allowing the US to withdraw its forces and end its longest-ever war, warned against the Loya Jirga throwing up any complications.
“We wish the jirga participants success … and urge them not to allow those who prefer the status quo and seek to complicate the path to peace to manipulate the process,” Khalilzad said on Twitter.