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US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad urges Taliban to agree to ceasefire

The Taliban is demanding the release of 5,000 prisoners by the Afghan government based on the US-Taliban agreement.

SNS | New Delhi |

The US special representation for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad on Sunday urged the Taliban to call a humanitarian ceasefire during the holy month of Ramzan.

Taking to Twitter, Khalilzad said, “Ramadan offers the Taliban an opportunity to embrace a humanitarian ceasefire to reduce violence and suspend offensive military operations until the health crisis is over”.

“Both sides must also accelerate the release of prisoners. The war on COVID-19 makes it urgent and will also aid the peace process including getting intra-Afghan negotiations underway”, the US envoy further added.

Earlier on Saturday, Khalilzad welcomed NATOs statement focused on “key next steps” for peace and stability in Afghanistan, including a humanitarian ceasefire amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

“The US-Taliban agreement provides a historic opportunity for Afghanistan,” Ambassador Khalilzad said.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation also renewed its appeal to “all Afghan leaders and parties to urgently reduce violence and work for lasting ceasefire” .

Last week, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani appealed to the Taliban for a ceasefire, citing the special conditions of the coronavirus pandemic in the country.

In response to that, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said that the government’s inattention to “thousands” of prisoners, who are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus, made Ghani’s appeal insincere, and this and other factors made a ceasefire improbable.

The Taliban is demanding the release of 5,000 prisoners by the Afghan government based on the US-Taliban agreement.

Last month, Khalilzad had said that the Washington would like the the Afghan government to begin the process of releasing Taliban prisoners as soon as possible in line with the historic peace agreement.

The intra-Afghan talks which were slated to begin on March 10 in Oslo were delayed because of the issues over the timing of the Taliban prisoner release.

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.

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.