Stage set for grand meeting of religious scholars, influential figures in Kabul 'for national unity'
Delegates from across Afghanistan arrived in capital Kabul on Wednesday for a conference of religious scholars that is set to discuss important issues.
Afghan government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference in Kabul that about 3,000 scholars, tribal elders and influential figures will attend the grand moot on Thursday.
Mujahid said that several committees were formed for arrangements and a declaration would be announced at the end of the meeting that could last for three days.
An invitee told Dawn.com that the participants will speak about all important issues, including the reopening of girls’ schools above sixth grade, inclusivity of the Taliban setup and respect for human rights.
The Taliban have not yet opened girls’ high schools despite their earlier announcement to do so, which has evoked criticism in and outside of Afghanistan.
First Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar visited the “Loya Jirga Hall” and instructed officials to take measures for better management of the grand assembly.
Taliban organisers had not issued a formal agenda for the conference until Wednesday night.
Two scholars and tribal elders were invited from every district and a similar number of people were also invited from major cities.
It will be the first major gathering since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August and is seen as an attempt by the group to seek scholarly support for internal recognition.
A similar gathering of religious scholars was held in the mid-1990s, which had then declared allegiance to Taliban founder Mullah Omar and also endorsed the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
No country has yet recognised the incumbent Taliban government, which came to power last year following the US withdrawal.
Senior Afghan leaders, including former president Hamid Karzai and former chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Dr Abdullah Abdullah, have called for greater inclusivity in the current setup.
Meanwhile, female activists held a press conference in Kabul to call for giving representation to women in the conference. They said women in Afghanistan make up half of the population and ignoring them was unjustified.
When questioned about the matter, Afghan Deputy Prime Minister Mawlavi Abdul Salam Hanafi said male delegates would represent women.
"The women are our mothers, sisters, we respect them a lot. When their sons are in the gathering it means they are also involved in a way," he said.
Civil society groups have said the meeting will lack legitimacy if women were not included.
Kabul has come under a security blanket and all roads to the “loya jirga” — literally “grand assembly” in Pashto — tent have been closed, in addition to setting up of new check posts and the deployment of Taliban intelligence officials and policemen.
The media is not allowed to attend the conference and report from the venue. The Taliban will, however, hold a daily briefing to apprise the media of the deliberations.
Additional input from Reuters.