Pakistan calls for early start of intra-Afghan dialogue

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Pakistan on Tuesday insisted that the eagerly awaited key negotiations among Afghans should start that will decide the political roadmap of Afghanistan.

Intra-Afghan negotiations were planned to start on March 10 under the Taliban-US agreement signed in late February. But the Afghan government’s refusal to free the Taliban 5,000 prisoners unconditionally had delayed the talks.

Kabul later released over 4,000 Taliban prisoners, who were on the Taliban list, but Afghan President Asharf Ghani has now referred the decision about 400 Taliban prisoners to a consultative “Jirga” of assembly of elders that will be held on Friday.

Afghan officials claim that 400 Taliban had been involved in major crimes and the government cannot make decision about their release.

Taliban have already completed the process of the release of 1,000 prisoners of the Afghan government, according to the Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen.

As efforts are underway to start the intra-Afghan negotiations Mullah Bradar, Head of the Political Office and his delegation had a virtual meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo via video-conference on Monday.

Shaheen tweeted that both sides talked about the inception of intra-Afghan negotiations and the status quo, emphasizing that release of the remaining prisoners are essential for commencement of intra-Afghan negotiations.

“The Secretary of State also welcomed the announcement of ceasefire by the Islamic Emirate on the eve of the current Eid,” he said.

In another development President Donald Trump, in an interview with Axios on HBO, has announced that the US will reduce its military presence in Afghanistan to about 4,000 troops “very soon”.

“We are largely out of Afghanistan,” Trump said in an interview with the news website Axios which was filmed on July 28, and aired Monday, Aug. 3, on HBO, according to Tolo TV.

“We’ll be down in a very short period of time to 8,000… then we’re going to be down to 4,000… we’re negotiating right now,” Trump said. However, he did not specify any exact times.

Commenting on Trump’s remarks, Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Mohammad Sadiq said in a Twitter post that “Initiation of, and quick progress in, Intra-Afghan Negotiations now will serve the interest of peace”.

Afghan Presidential Spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said in Kabul on Tuesday that Prime Minister Imran Khan in his telephonic conversation with President Ghani assured support for the peace process and said Pakistan will play its due role in the process.

Sediqqi said the president will seek the jirga’s decision on the remaining Taliban prisoners, besides discussing other important issues related to the peace process.

The Taliban criticized Ghani’s decision to call the Jirga and said the rulers of Kabul “holding no legal authority have repeatedly tried to misuse the name of Loya Jirga over the past two decades by duplicating the process with invitations to administration workers and hired individuals which have had no impact on the situation except create a propaganda frenzy.”

“The Arg (presidential palace) officials – who have been acting in complete opposition to the wishes of the people during this process aimed at finding a peaceful resolution and have no logical political stance – now seek to divert public attention for a few more days under the name of Loya Jirga and further delay intra-Afghan negotiations because calling for the convening of a Loya Jirga about such a minor issue has no other meaning or justifiable basis,” a Taliban commentary said on Tuesday.

Ghani in his speech on Eid day said he will have to consult with the people and call for a consultative “Loya Jirga” to be able to make a decision on those 400 prisoners.

“The Loya Jirga will be convened soon. I call upon the Upper House and Lower House speakers and all members of the Parliament to return from recess and get together in Kabul for the sake of convening the Loya Jirga,” he said.

“In the list that the Taliban provided to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, some 400 prisoners are included in the list that according to the Afghanistan Constitution and the Afghan Penal Code, the president of Afghanistan has no authority to issue orders on their release,” Ghani said.