A historic "loya jirga" peace summit in Kabul
ended Friday with delegates from across Afghanistan demanding an immediate and
permanent ceasefire – and President Ashraf Ghani saying he was conditionally
prepared to implement one.
This week's loya jirga, or grand assembly, saw about 3,200 religious and tribal leaders, politicians and representatives try to find a breakthrough in Afghanistan's grueling conflict, which is now in its 18th year.
"The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban movement should declare and implement an immediate and permanent ceasefire," delegates said in a declaration at the end of the jirga.
They said the ceasefire should start at the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, which gets underway in the coming days.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he was "prepared to implement the fair and legitimate demand" for a ceasefire but stressed it "cannot be one-sided".
"If the Taliban are fully ready for a ceasefire, then we can talk about the technical details," Ghani said in a speech.
The president also promised to release 175 Taliban prisoners as a gesture of "goodwill".
The Taliban are currently negotiating in separate talks with a US peace envoy in Qatar.
They have so far refused to even speak with Ghani, who they view as an American stooge.
Last year, however, the Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire at the end of Ramadan after Ghani declared a unilateral truce for eight days earlier in the month.
It was first formal nationwide ceasefire since the US-led invasion of 2001 and saw unprecedented scenes of reconciliation and jubilation across the country.
This week's rare summit, the first of its kind since 2013, saw emotions riding high as attendees shared tears, recriminations and at least one fist fight as they revisited the horrors of Afghanistan's recent past, and contemplated peace with their longtime foe.
The talks between the Taliban and US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad focus on a potential deal that would see the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan in return for the Taliban guaranteeing terrorist groups could no longer operate in the country.
Huge swathes of Afghan society worry that if the US does make a deal with the Taliban, the militant Islamists would try to seize power and undo advances in women's rights, media freedoms, and legal protections.
Such concerns were prominent at the jirga, where hundreds of women were in attendance outlining their "red lines" for any negotiations with the Taliban. The declaration at the end of the event said the rights of all Afghans should be preserved.
"We don't want such a peace that women's rights are not respected, freedom of expression are not ensured, elections are not held," committee member Faizullah Jalal told the summit.
Khalilzad said on Twitter that he had told the Taliban "that the Afghan people, who are their brothers & sisters, want this war to end. It is time to put down arms, stop the violence, & embrace peace."
The Taliban responded on Twitter by saying Khalilzad "should forget about the idea of us putting down our arms".
"Instead of such fantasies, he should drive the idea home (to the US) about ending the use of force & incurring further human & financial losses for the decaying Kabul administration," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted.
This year's jirga proved controversial, with opposition figures slamming it as an election campaign event for Ghani.
Among those boycotting were Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a notorious former warlord. Both men are running for president in elections slated for September.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan's war rages on, with thousands of civilians and fighters being killed each year.
US forces continue to train Afghan partners on the ground and strike the Taliban from the air, in a bid to push the war to a political settlement.