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Afghanistan government releases 1st group of Taliban prisoners

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.

IANS | Kabul |

The Afghanistan government has released a first batch of 100 Taliban prisoners as a part of a prisoner-swap process expected to pave way for the intra-Afghan talks, according to official sources.

The move on Wednesday came a day after the Taliban negotiating team decided to boycott the prisoner exchange talks after holding several meetings with government officials, Efe news reported.

“The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan released 100 Taliban prisoners today based on their health condition, age and length of remaining sentence,” said a statement by the Office of National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib.

The release took place as per the provisions of a decree issued by President Ashraf Ghani’s on March 11, laying down the manner and conditions for the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners in phases.

According to the decree, 1,500 Taliban prisoners would be released in batches of 100 every day, and the remaining in batches of 500 every two weeks.

“The National Directorate of Security and the Attorney General’s Office thoroughly vetted the prisoners, who have taken an oath never to return to the battlefield,” the statement said, adding that they had received a similar assurance from the Taliban leadership.

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 stressed they first wanted to release those prisoners who posed a lesser threat to the internal security of the country.

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.

Washington wants the government to start negotiating with the Taliban for a roadmap to pull out American troops from the war-ravaged country.

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.