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Afghanistan continues with prisoner release despite Taliban protest

The government said that it was “open” to continue technical talks with the Taliban “to advance the peace process” to end the 19-year long deadly conflict in the country.

SNS | New Delhi |

The Afghan government said a staggered prisoner release process would continue despite the Talibans withdrawal in protest against what it called an unacceptable initiative for peace.

“The prisoner release process will continue… (It is) a part of the broader list that the Taliban shared with us,” National Security Council spokesperson Javid Faisal told Efe news on Thursday.

President Ashraf Ghani has tasked the NSC to deal with the prisoner release process.

Ghani’s government released the first batch of 100 Taliban prisoners from the Bagram jail on Wednesday as part of a prisoner-swap process to pave way for the intra-Afghan talks.

The US and the insurgent group signed a peace deal on February 29 in the Qatari capital of Doha, which included an agreement for the release of some 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for 1,000 Afghan security forces.

The prisoner exchange deal would serve as a precursor to the commencement of intra-Afghan talks to usher in peace in the country after nearly 20 years.

The Taliban delegation arrived in Kabul on March 31 and held several meetings with Afghan government officials to discuss technicalities for the prisoner exchange.

This was the first official delegation of the Taliban in the Afghan capital in 19 years since the group was ousted from power in 2001 by the US.

However, the Taliban decided to boycott the talks, terming the meetings with Afghan officials as “fruitless”, and accusing Kabul and Washington of “deliberately” delaying the prisoners’ release.

On the other hand, the Afghan government blamed the Taliban for the delay, claiming the insurgents had been insisting on the release of 15 top militant commanders who have been involved in big attacks.

The government said that it was “open” to continue technical talks with the Taliban “to advance the peace process” to end the 19-year long deadly conflict in the country.

Ghani had decreed that 100 prisoners would be released each day in the first 15 days after the process begins. The remaining 3,500 were to be freed in phases – 500 after every fortnight.

But Faisal said the numbers may vary now, depending on some “factors” that he did not explain.

On Wednesday, the government expressed its willingness to resume interactions with the Taliban “in order to advance the peace process”.
The US earlier this month declared that it was cutting its aid to the Afghan government by $1 billion over the delayed Afghan peace process.

The plan was to start with the withdrawal of 8,600 soldiers within 135 days from the date of the signing of the deal. Currently, some 14,000 US troops remain deployed in the country.

(With inputs from agency)