Afghans to hold Loya Jirga meeting to discuss peace talks

The Afghan president's peace envoy says a traditional council of Afghan political and tribal leaders, known as a Loya Jirga, will be held next month to discuss negotiations with the Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghan political and tribal leaders will hold a large gathering known as a Loya Jirga next month to discuss negotiations with the Taliban, the president's peace envoy said Wednesday.

Mohammad Omar Daudzai said in a televised speech that the gathering will aim to come up with a framework for the Kabul government to engage in peace talks with the insurgents, who effectively control nearly half the country. The Taliban have so far refused direct talks with Kabul but have been negotiating with the U.S. to end its 17-year war in Afghanistan. Daudzai said the Loya Jirga would discuss the government's "values and red lines."

He said most Afghan politicians want the ongoing U.S.-Taliban talks to lay the groundwork for direct negotiations between the Taliban and the government of President Ashraf Ghani. He said the Americans and the Taliban had agreed in principle on the withdrawal of U.S. troops, but only after a peace deal is reached with popular support.

Daudzai, who spoke at an event held by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said both military pressure and regional diplomacy were still on the table to coax the Taliban into engaging in direct negotiations with the Afghan government.

U.S. Ambassador John Bass, speaking at the same event, said Washington hopes to capitalize on gains that have already been made in negotiations, emphasizing that the end goal is "peace and dignity" for the Afghan people.

Sima Samer, the head of the rights commission, warned that using human rights as a bargaining chip in negotiations would undermine any peace agreement.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan under a harsh form of Islamic law from 1996 until the U.S.-led invasion following the Sept. 11 attacks. Many fear that a peace agreement could return the Taliban to power and endanger freedoms gained since 2001.