Afghan President Ashraf Ghani opened a four-day Loya Jirga, or Grand Assembly on April 29, with more than 3,200 delegates seeking to agree on a common approach to peace talks with the Taliban.
The Loya Jirga that brings together politicians, tribal elders and other prominent figures, was overshadowed by no-shows of several high-ranking officials, including Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Ghani’s partner in a unity government.
President Ghani's Special Envoy Omar Daudzai said that delegates from Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan are among the participants of the gathering that is taking place under tight security in Kabul.
Ghani told the gathering that he wants to create a "unified stance" on peace. He called the participants "ambassadors of peace" in Afghanistan, and said the Loya Jirga delegates will determine the "direction" of the peace process.
Taliban negotiators have so far refused to negotiate with the government, calling it a puppet of the West, and have insisted on the withdrawal of foreign forces before talks with Kabul can begin.
The United States has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of Resolute Support, a NATO-led mission that provides training and assistance to security forces in Afghanistan as they battle Taliban fighters and other extremist groups, including Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda.
Last week, the United States, Russia, and China said in a joint statement that they have agreed on the goal of withdrawing foreign forces from Afghanistan and seeking an "inclusive Afghan-led" peace process.