Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has inaugurated the country’s new parliament, though dozens of seats remained empty amid ongoing claims of election fraud.
The parliament’s first session on Thursday came six months after a vote that was marred by a string of deadly bombings and attacks on polling stations across the country.
In his opening speech, Ghani called for the protection of human rights and expressed regret over the 33 seats that remain vacant in the 249-seat lower house.
“Today, in the house of the nation, the majority of the new members of the parliament are educated, and from a younger generation who will protect women’s rights and human rights,” he said.
The government had no role in the inaugural delay, he said, blaming the “incompetency of former election commission members” who have since been replaced.
Ghani also encouraged the newly elected legislators to participate in the peace process with the Taliban.
“We have presented the peace plan on a regular basis and we are committed to it,” he said. “Based on this plan, there will be no peace deal and negotiation that does not have the green card of the parliament.”
The president 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.
Ghani’s term as president was supposed to end May 22 but has been extended for several months.
Presidential elections to find a replacement should have been held by now, but have been twice delayed as election workers scramble to fill the backlog from the parliamentary vote.
Friday’s ceremony came as the defence ministry said the military had stormed a Taliban-run jail in southern Zabul province, freeing 53 captives held by the fighters.
Those freed included four Afghan commandos and four policemen. The rest were civilians, the ministry said.
The Taliban stage near-daily attacks and though they are negotiating with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
The armed group refuse to talk directly to Ghani’s government, calling it a “puppet” of the West.
The Taliban has been running an armed rebellion since it was dislodged from power in 2001 after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. The ongoing negotiations mark the highest level negotiations between the two sides since the US ramped up peace efforts last year.
Talks that were to start last week in Qatar between the Taliban and an array of prominent Afghans, including government officials and opposition representatives, were scuttled after a falling-out between the two sides over who should attend.