Members of the Loya Jirga, grand council, attend during the last day of the Loya Jirga, in Kabul, Nov. 24, 2013.
Members of the Loya Jirga, grand council, attend during the last day of the Loya Jirga, in Kabul, Nov. 24, 2013.

KABUL - Afghanistan is planning to hold a grand council of tribal elders and political leaders next month to discuss how to end the Taliban insurgency, a presidential peace envoy said, as Taliban officials and U.S. diplomats prepared to resume talks in Qatar on Monday.

The assembly, known as a loya jirga, will be convened in Kabul on March 17, with more than 2,000 participants gathering for four days of debate under a large tent, according to Umer Daudzai, the special peace envoy appointed last year by President Ashraf Ghani.

The loya jirga is a centuries-old institution used to build consensus among competing tribes, factions and ethnic groups and was used to lay the foundations of a post-Taliban society after a U.S.-led campaign drove the hardline Islamist militants from power in 2001

Having waged an unrelenting guerrilla war against government and Western forces since then, the Taliban has consistently refused to talk to the Kabul government, dismissing it as a foreign-backed "puppet" regime.

A loya jirga, however, could potentially provide a forum for representatives of the Taliban to enter into a dialogue with wider Afghan society.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, and U.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, and U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute, left, speak with Afghanistan's Interior Minister Mohammed Umer Daudzai at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Dec. 4, 2013

"The main purpose of holding the loya jirga is to reach a national consensus for peace in the country," said Daudzai, who is leading preparations for the assembly.

Daudzai, a former interior minister, said it would also be an opportunity to make clear that the ultra hardline rule imposed by the Taliban in the 1990s, with its harsh punishments and restrictions on womens' rights, were unacceptable for Afghanistan's broader society.

"We will discuss in the jirga that the gains, particularly the rights of women and freedom of speech are not up for debate or concession," Daudzai said.

Participants invited to attend the jirga would be chosen by special committees to provide a voice for a cross-section of Afghan society from across the country.

U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalma
U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, center, speaks during a roundtable discussion with Afghan media at the U.S Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan Jan. 28, 2019.

On Monday, U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is due to meet a Taliban delegation in Qatar for the latest in a round of meetings that started last year, with the focus likely to be on how to implement a ceasefire and the possible withdrawal of international troops.

The Taliban's political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will be the most senior figure attending the talks.

The U.S. side has been trying to persuade the Taliban to talk to the government in Kabul. Daudzai, who would lead any negotiations with the Taliban,  said the insurgents would eventually have to engage with the government to address their demands for the exchange prisoners and removal of international travel bans on senior leaders.

With civilian casualties hitting record levels last year and more than 3,800 people killed, Daudzai said the momentum for peace was fast building and he hoped direct negotiations with the Taliban could start within two to three months.

Child Marriage