Afghanistan frees 100 Taliban prisoners as part of peace process - GulfToday

Afghanistan frees 100 Taliban prisoners as part of peace process


A security personnel stops motorists at a checkpoint during a government-imposed lockdown in Kabul on Wednesday. AFP

The Afghan government freed 100 Taliban prisoners on Wednesday as a first step in a peace process with the hardline Islamists, despite the group's suspension of talks on a planned prisoner exchange crucial to moving to formal talks to end years of war.

Differences over the prisoner release question have been complicating US brokered attempts to create a lasting peace agreement to end more than 18 years of conflict in Afghanistan.

BagramJailAfghan National Army soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint outside Bagram prison, north of Kabul. Reuters

"The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan released 100 Taliban prisoners today based on their health condition, age and length of remaining sentence, as part of our efforts for peace," said Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council, which has been negotiating with the Taliban.

Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen in a message to The Associated Press said the insurgent group doesn't know who the government is releasing without verification. He said the Taliban withdrew a technical team to oversee the releases because of delays by the government.

In a tweet, Shaheen admonished the government for refusing to release the first 15 Taliban they requested who were on the list.

"They should be released based on our list,” Shaheen told AP. The list of Taliban and government personnel to be released were part of the negotiations that led to the signing of the US-Taliban peace deal.

Meanwhile, in recent days Washington has expressed its frustration with the political turmoil in Kabul as President Ashraf Ghani and his rival in last year’s presidential polls squabble over power sharing amid allegations of election fraud.

KabulJailAn Afghan National Army soldier stands guard outside Bagram prison. Reuters

Earlier this week, the US State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs tweeted a harsh statement expressing frustration at the continued political turmoil roiling in Kabul.

The State Department tweeted: "As the world gets slammed by COVID-19, with devastating economic consequences for all, donors are frustrated and fed up by personal agendas being advanced ahead of the welfare of the Afghan people.”

Afghanistan has imposed a lockdown in several cities to curb the spread of the new virus and has so far recorded 444 confirmed cases and 14 deaths.
Meanwhile, at least seven Afghan civilians were killed when the Taliban attacked security forces in northern Balkh province, local officials said Wednesday.

A February pact between the United States and the Taliban, under which US-led international forces will withdraw in phases in exchange for Taliban security guarantees, is the best chance to reduce US military involvement in Afghanistan.

But peace hinges on talks between the US-backed Afghan government and the militants. A prisoner exchange is meant to build confidence on both sides for those talks.

Despite this week's setbacks over the prisoner releases, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said progress had been made since he visited Kabul on March 23 and also met Taliban officials in Qatar to iron out the differences.


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