Afghan politicians and political parties showed a mixed reaction to the Loya Jirga, the grand assembly, that started in Kabul today to decide on the release of 400 Taliban prisoners. Over 3,200 delegates were in attendance.
According to government data, of the 400 prisoners in question, 156 of them have been sentenced to death, 105 of them are accused of murder, 34 of them are accused of kidnapping that led to murder, 51 of them are accused of drug smuggling, 44 of them are on the blacklist of the Afghan government and its allies, 6 of them are accused of other crimes, 4 are unknown.
The list of 5,000 prisoners was given to the Afghan government by the Taliban to be released ahead of intra-Afghan negotiations that are expected to be held in Doha.
So far, the government has released 4,600 of the prisoners on the Taliban list, and an additional 500 who were not on the Taliban list. These last 500 were freed during Eid in response to the Taliban’s announcement of a ceasefire.
“The release of the 4,600 prisoners was based on US pressure. I am sure that the remaining 400 will be ultimately released based on US pressure. They would have been released even if the Jirga was not held,” said Omar Zakhilwal, the former Afghan ambassador in Pakistan.
Former president Hamid Karzai in a statement welcomed the Jirga and called it important for starting peace negotiations.
Others suggest there may be other purposes for the Jirga.
“For sure, the government has other things in mind to use from the Loya Jirga,” said Sayed Ishaq Gailani, head the National Solidarity Movement of Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission raised concerns about the release of the 400 Taliban prisoners.
“The unconditional release of individuals who are accused of crimes is concerning,” said Zabihullah Farhang, head of the media office of the commission.
“This Jirga cannot be anything else except a waste of time for the people of Afghanistan and for the budget of the people and it will create a legal crisis in the country,” said Arash Shaheerpoor, a lawyer.
The Jirga event was disrupted during President Ghani’s speech when a woman delegate, Belqis Roshan, protested the release of the prisoners by holding a banner that said do not give ransom to the Taliban. Video on social media showed that Roshan was dragged out of the Jirga during Ghani's speech after she protested the release of Taliban prisoners.
The commission for organizing the Jirga in a statement apologized for the incident with Roshan.
In another incident during the Jirga, a young activist from Nangarhar was taken out of the venue. Roshan told TOLOnews that the man is under security forces' custody.
In reaction to the two incidents, Abdullah Abdullah, who is chairing the Jirga, said in a tweet: “As chair of the consultative Loya Jirga, I stress that our aim is to reflect our national will for peace. Today's unfortunate incidents remind us that we may not agree on all issues, but all voices need to be heard. Any action to stifle dissent will not be tolerated and needs to be dealt with legally.”