US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on Thursday said that the intra-Afghan negotiations between the Kabul governments team and the Taliban “must begin immediately”.

“We welcome the government now having exceeded 3,000 Taliban prisoners released and the Taliban 500. It is important that the process continues, and the prisoners release roadblock resolved,” TOLO News quoted Khalilzad as saying on Thursday.

He said that “the Afghan-owned, Afghan-led negotiations between the inclusive Islamic Republic team and the Taliban negotiating team must begin immediately thereafter. From the start, getting to intra-Afghan negotiations (IAN) has been a key objective of our diplomacy”.

“We welcome the Taliban statement specifying they will participate in intra-Afghan negotiations within one week of the prisoner release commitment outlined in our agreement. Although many practical details need to be worked out, these developments are all very positive,” he said.

Earlier this month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo via video conference and discussed the Afghan peace process.

Last month, Khalilzad said that he had a “constructive meeting” with senior Taliban leaders in Doha, and discussed counter-terrorism, intra-Afghan talks and the withdrawal of American forces from the country under the peace deal.

Khalilzad also met Ghani and Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul and congratulated them on their agreement to form an inclusive government after proctracted negotiations.

The US-Taliban deal signed in Qatar on February 29 calls for the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners to open the way for intra-Afghan negotiations.

More than 10,000 civilians were killed or wounded in Afghanistan’s war last year, the United Nations had announced earlier 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.