Afghanistan's president has announced the release of 175 Taliban prisoners as a goodwill gesture. Ashraf Ghani was responding to demands submitted to him by a traditional council, or loya jirga, which met in Kabul this week to discuss peace. The grand assembly called for an immediate ceasefire between the Afghan government and Taliban militants. But the Taliban has so far refused to engage in direct peace talks with Mr Ghani's government. The militants are negotiating directly with a US envoy in Qatar, as Washington seeks to wind up the longest war in its history, which began in 2001 after the 9\/11 attacks. Since October, US officials and representatives of the Taliban have held direct talks. A potential deal has emerged that would see foreign troops withdraw in return for the insurgents guaranteeing that Afghan territory would not be used as a base by foreign militants. But there are fears, including among Afghanistan's women, that any US deal with the Taliban could eventually see the militants sweep back into power and strip away rights and freedoms gained since they were toppled in 2001. The Taliban has shunned direct talks with the Afghan government, calling it "a US-imposed puppet regime". The group has not yet responded to the proposed release of its prisoners nor the demand for a ceasefire.