Afghanistan released the first batch of 100 Taliban prisoners as part of a prisoner-swap deal expected to pave way for intra-Afghan talks. This move came on Wednesday, a day after the Taliban negotiating team had withdrawn from the prisoner exchange talks citing delaying tactics by the Afghan government.
"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 after issuance of a decree by President Ashraf Ghani 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 Taliban prisoners are being released as part of a peace deal signed between the US and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, in February this year. Under the deal, the US will begin a phased withdrawal of troops from the region while the Taliban will negotiate with the Afghan government to bring lasting peace to the country. The deal did not involve the Afghan government but urged the Taliban and the former to open up talks for peace.
One part of the deal was the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for 1,000 Afghan security force personnel held by the Taliban by March 10.
The prisoner exchange deal would serve as a precursor to intra-Afghan talks that brings various communities together to usher in peace in the war-torn country after nearly 20 years. It was in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US that the latter had attacked Afghanistan to dislodge the Taliban government, which the US had alleged was behind the attacks on its soil. This was the first official delegation of the Taliban in Kabul since then.
The Afghan government made it clear to the Taliban that it will release those prisoners who pose a lesser threat to the security of the country. The talks have been delayed as Ghani was busy battling his political rival Abdullah Abdullah and then the Taliban had rejected the Afghan delegation for talks. A frustrated US had earlier this month decided to reduce aid to the country by $1 billion over the delayed peace process.
The release of prisoners is a significant step in negotiations as the peace deal had come under strain as the Taliban had stepped up attacks on Afghan troops after signing the peace deal with the US. Moreover, the US too had launched attacks on the Taliban just days after signing the deal.
Washington is in a hurry for the Taliban and the Afghan government to hold successful talks as it wants to begin the withdrawal of 8,600 soldiers within 135 days from February 29 – the date of the signing of the deal, and completely pull out its troops by 2021..