April 26, 2019 / 12:11 PM / 5 months ago

Afghan president urges new lawmakers to participate in peace process

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Ashraf Ghani encouraged newly-elected lawmakers to participate in the peace process with the Taliban as he opened on Friday the first session of parliament since a controversial election.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during the inauguration of the newly-elected parliament in Kabul, Afghanistan April 26, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

Ghani has invited thousands of politicians, religious scholars and rights activists to an assembly known as a loya jirga next week to discuss ways to end the 17-year war.

Several opposition leaders have said they will boycott the four-day assembly in Kabul, saying it was pulled together without their input and is being used by Ghani as he seeks a second term in a September presidential election.

“We have presented the peace plan on a regular basis and we are committed to it,” Ghani said in the first session since parliamentary elections marred by technical problems, militant attacks and accusations of voting fraud last year.

“Based on this plan, there will be no peace deal and negotiation that does not have the green card of the parliament,” he added.

Officials from the United States and the Taliban have held several rounds of talks to end the Afghan war.

U.S. negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, has reported some progress toward an accord on a U.S. troop withdrawal and on how the Taliban would prevent extremists from using Afghanistan to launch attacks as al Qaeda did on Sept. 11, 2001.

The insurgents have so far rejected U.S. demands for a ceasefire and talks on the country’s political future that would include Afghan government officials.

The loya jirga, a centuries-old institution used to build consensus among competing tribes, factions and ethnic groups, is an attempt by Ghani to influence the peace talks and cement his position for a second term, Afghan politicians and Western diplomats say.

Amid growing political divisions in Kabul, opposition politicians have demanded that Ghani step down when his mandate ends next month, and give way to an interim government to oversee peace talks with the Taliban. Ghani has ruled that out.

The country’s top court said last week Ghani can stay in office until the presidential election in September.

Reporting by Hameed Farzad, Rupam Jain, Editing by Darren Schuettler

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