Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani has pardoned thousands of Taliban prisoners in a key preliminary step to intra-Afghan talks between a government delegation and the extremist group, according to the spokesman Wednesday.
Ghani’s move to release the 5,000 inmates marks the beginning of negotiations to end the 19 years of war that have pitted Taliban against the government in Afghanistan, Efe news reported.
Taking to Twitter, Spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said, “President Ghani has signed the decree that would facilitate the release of the Taliban prisoners in accordance with an accepted framework for the start of negotiation between the Taliban and the Afghan government”.
He said authorities would provide details throughout the day.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States’ Afghanistan peace representative, said in a later Twitter message that prisoners’ release would begin Saturday based on a list provided by insurgents.
Talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government to end the war will run parallel with the release, the decree said.
The decree further added that the Taliban will have to stick to its commitment to a reduction in violence during this period and beyond.
The release of the prisoners is part of a confidence-building measure to pave the way for the opening of direct talks between the government and the insurgents, after talks with both sides and the United States individually.
Commanders of the hardline insurgent Islamist group have sent vehicles to be ready to collect the fighters in a prisoner exchange and said they will honour the deal by handing over 1,000 government troops.
According to the deal, the US is going to reduce its troops to 8,600 in Afghanistan within 135 days, and will, together with its NATO allies, completely pull out the remaining one in the following 14 months if the Taliban stuck to its commitments.
Addressing the signing ceremony, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani expressed hope that “this historic agreement will contribute to achieving peace, stability and prosperity in the region and the world”.
The deal would contribute to bringing stability back to Afghanistan and promote regional and international security, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
More than 10,000 civilians were killed or wounded in Afghanistan’s war last year, the United Nations announced Saturday, as a historic partial truce kicked in across the country. India did not recognise Afghanistan diplomatically when Taliban was ruling the country from 1996 to 2002.
(With inputs from agency)