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Afghan president names reconciliation council members to push talks with Taliban

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the 2014 London Conference on Afghanistan, co-hosted by the governments of the UK and Afghanistan. (DFID - UK Department for International Development/Released)

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has revealed the names of the appointed members and leaders of the country’s High Council for National Reconciliation, a body tasked with leading peace negotiations with the Taliban.

Political figures, including current and former officials, leaders of political parties, and renowned religious leaders are among the more than 40 council members approved by Ghani, according to a presidential decree issued late on August 29.

The list includes former mujahedin leaders Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, as well as civil-society activist Safia Sediqqi and eight other women.

One of the appointed women was named the deputy of council head Abdullah Abdullah, the former chief executive officer of Afghanistan’s unity government.

Former President Hamid Karzai was also named but he rejected the appointment in a statement on August 30, saying he declines to be part of any government structure.

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The High Council for National Reconciliation is to oversee a 21-member negotiating team appointed by Ghani in March to conduct face-to-face talks with the Taliban.

The talks are part of an agreement reached between the militants and the United States in February in an effort to end nearly 19 years of war in Afghanistan.

On August 26, the Taliban announced it had formed a new 20-member department responsible for Taliban representation at both the intra-Afghan talks and further negotiations with the United States.

The beginning of the planned peace talks has faced some serious challenges, including the issue of the release of prisoners.

The internationally recognized government in Kabul has recently reversed a decision to release the last 320 Taliban prisoners it is holding until the insurgents free more captured soldiers.

“The Taliban will have to release our commandos held by them before the government resumes the release of the remaining 320 Taliban prisoners,” Javid Faisal, spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council, tweeted on August 29.