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Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani (above) and former Afghan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah were sworn-in as presidents at parallel ceremonies on Monday. (REUTERS)
Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani (above) and former Afghan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah were sworn-in as presidents at parallel ceremonies on Monday. (REUTERS)

Taliban rejects Kabul’s proposal to release just 1,500 prisoners

  • Taliban rejects Afghanistan govt proposal, says it will not start dialogue until all 5,000 prisoners are freed
  • The Taliban rejected Kabul’s proposal stating it violated an accord struck with the US

NEW DELHI : Efforts to start intra-Afghan talks that would end the Afghan war have run into trouble with the Taliban rejecting an Afghan government proposal to release 1,500 Taliban prisoners, saying 5,000 of the militants must be freed, news reports said on Wednesday.

Reuters news agency cited a two-page decree, signed by president Ashraf Ghani, as saying all released militants prisoners will have to give “a written guarantee to not return to the battlefield."

The decree also laid out details about how the prisoners will be released in a systematic manner, a process that it said will begin in four days.

But the Taliban rejected the proposal stating it violated an accord struck with the US to enable America to end its involvement in the 18-year-old war. The group said it would not start the intra-Afghan dialogue until all the 5,000 prisoners were freed.

“We never agreed to any conditional release of prisoners," Mohammed Suhail Shaheen, the Qatar-based spokesman for the Taliban told Reuters by phone. “If someone claims this, it will be against the peace accord that we signed on 29 February," he said adding: “It is properly explained in the peace accord that first 5,000 prisoners would be freed and then the Afghan dialogue would be initiated."

The release of the prisoners - along with some 1,000 government troops held by the militants, is seen as a confidence-building measure to pave the way for the intra-Afghan talks.

The conflicting positions on the issue between the Taliban and Ghani’s government seemed to stem from a difference in wording in documents exchanged between the US and the Taliban on the one hand, and the US and the Afghan government on the other.

In an email interview to Mint on Monday, Shaheen said the intra-Afghan talks hinge on the release of Taliban prisoners by Kabul.

“The process of releasing 1,500 Taliban prisoners will be completed within 15 days, with 100 prisoners walking out of Afghan jails every day," according to the Afghan government decree.

Talks between the Taliban and Afghan government to end the war will run in parallel with the release of prisoners, the decree said.

If the talks make progress, the government said it will release a further 500 Taliban prisoners every two weeks until a total of 5,000 have been freed.

The decree said the Taliban will have to stick to its commitment to a reduction in violence during this period and beyond. It is unsure whether the Taliban will agree to this condition given that two days after the signing of the peace deal with the US, the group said it would keep up attacks on Afghan security forces while sparing the US and other international troops.

Meanwhile, US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus in a statement said preparations for intra-Afghan talks are underway but a political crisis triggered by both Ghani and former Afghan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah swearing themselves in as presidents in parallel ceremonies on Monday was not helping.

“President Ghani has told us (the US) he is consulting with Dr Abdullah and other Afghan leaders and will announce an inclusive team in the coming few days," she said.

“The current high level of violence by the Taliban is unacceptable," she said, listing an other challenge.

“We acknowledge the Taliban have taken steps to stop attacks against the Coalition and in cities. But they are killing too many Afghans in the countryside. This must change. Violence at these levels risks drawing both sides into a vicious cycle, serves no one, and undermines peace," she added.

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