50,000 people are fleeing from fights in Eastern Afghanistan
50,000 people are fleeing from fights in Eastern Afghanistan

At the end of the traditional tribal assembly in Kabul, Afghanistan vowed to release 175 Taliban prisoners. The peace summit took place amid escalating fighting between the Taliban and IS supporters in the eastern part of the country. The army intervened belatedly, and the situation remains confusing.

A Loya Jirga 'Grand Assembly' in Afghanistan's capital Kabul, aimed at forming a national negotiating position for possible peace talks with the Taliban, was concluded on Friday with calls for a permanent ceasefire. The four-day assembly, which drew some 3,200 delegates from across the war-torn country, ended a day behind schedule with a 23-point resolution calling for an  immediate and permanent ceasefire at the start of Ramadan.

Ramadan begins on Sunday May 5, with Muslims worldwide set to fast for a month. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who attended the closing ceremony, said his government would heed the call, but the Taliban would have to agree as well for it to be implemented. "A ceasefire is not one-sided; if the Taliban are ready, we can talk about the details of it," Ghani said. Ghani added that as a gesture of goodwill, 175 Taliban prisoners would be released. He called on the militant group to send representatives to receive the prisoners.

According to a report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) more than 8,000 Afghan families had to leave their home towns due to the fighting within one week. A spokesperson of the governor of the province said people fled from fighting between the radical islamic Taliban and the terror militia IS that had started roughly eight days previously.

One of the triggers of the conflict was the capture of six villages close to the Pakistani border by IS fighters, according to the UN report. The internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the two districts of Chogiani und Schersad had thereupon used every available means of transportation to get away.

Army reacts hesitantly

The Afghan families primarily fled into two neighboring districts, which in the past had alread taken in IDPs from the neighboring provinces of Kunar and Laghman, according to the UN report. The vast majority of the repatriates from Pakistan had settled there, too, the UN said. This had led to a shortage of accommodation and high rents.

Observers say combat between the rival Islamic groups was the fiercest in months. Late Monday evening, three days after fighting began, the army tried to drive the rebels out of the districts with the help of US soldiers. Although the fighting is supposed to have abated by now, the situation remains confusing. According to government information, 22 IS members were killed and two weapon stashes destroyed. Nothing is known about dead or injured civilians.

Calls for permanent ceasefire

The more than 3,000 delegates who met in the capital city of Kabul to discuss the future of Afghanistan hailed from all regions of the country. Head of state Aschraf Ghani had expressed his hope for a strong mandate for peace talks with the radical islamic Taliban at the beginning of the four-day meeting.

"We want to determine the guideline for the negotiations with the Taliban," said Ghani at the opening of the meeting. The government wanted "clear proposals" from the delegates. Abdul Hannan, who arrived as a member from a delegation from Kabul's South, said to news agency Reuters it was important to cease fighting before the peace deal. "We are here to move both sides to declare a cease-fire," he said.

Taliban unimpressed by peace talks

In the run up to the Loya Jirga, the Taliban had announced they would not accept any decisions made in Kabul. Ghani had thereupon offered talks without preconditions. During the negotiations, which the Taliban have led for some time with US representatives, Ghani remained outside the process.

In spite of the agreed ceasefire, the prospects for peace in the near future are poor. In mid-April, the Taliban had announced the start of its annual "spring offensive," thus destroying the hope for a quick ceasefire. Already in winter, the number of islamistic attacks had increased by 19 percent compared to the previous quarter. The US inspector general for Afghanistan registered significantly higher casualties among Afghan troops. According to the paper, these trends are exceptional; in previous years, violence always abated in winter.

First published in German: May 3, 2019

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Source: dw.com

With additional reporting and translation by Benjamin Bathke


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