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Afghan Loya Jirga To Convene Next Month To Discuss Peace Talks

Omar Daudzai

KABUL -- Afghan politicians and tribal, ethnic, and religious leaders are set to meet for at least four days next month to discuss negotiations with the Taliban, President Ashraf Ghani's special peace envoy has said.

Omar Daudzai said on February 20 that the gathering, known as a Loya Jirga, will be held from March 17-20, adding: “If the discussions continue, it will be extended.”

Daudzai said that the consultative Loya Jirga will discuss the government's "values and red lines" and will aim to come up with a framework for the Western-backed government in Kabul to engage in peace negotiations with the militant group.

The Taliban, which now reportedly controls nearly half of Afghanistan, has so far refused to hold direct negotiations with the Afghan government, calling it a Western puppet.

However, it has held a series of direct talks with U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in recent months to put an end to the 17-year war in Afghanistan.

Speaking at an event organized by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in Kabul, Daudzai said that most Afghan politicians want these talks to lay the groundwork for direct negotiations between the Taliban and Kabul.

AIHRC head Sima Samer warned that using human rights as a bargaining chip in the talks with the Taliban would undermine any peace agreement.

U.S. Ambassador John Bass emphasized that the final goal of the talks was "peace and dignity" for the people of Afghanistan.

Khalilzad is scheduled to meet Taliban negotiators for talks in Qatar on February 25.

During their previous round of talks in Doha, the Qatari capital, U.S. and Taliban negotiators reached the basic framework of a possible peace deal.

The agreement calls for the Taliban to prevent international terrorist groups from basing themselves in Afghanistan and for the United States to withdraw its forces from the country.

U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan since an October 2001 invasion that brought down the Taliban government after it refused to hand over Al-Qaeda terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, blamed for launching the September 11, 2001, in the United States.

Taliban leaders, who took control in 1996, imposed a harsh form of Islamic law that denied education and work to women and girls as they cracked down on other social activities.

With reporting by AP