Afghan govt delays plan to free Taliban prisoners, puts peace deal at risk

Topics Afghanistan | Taliban

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani

The Afghan government has indefinitely delayed the start of the planned release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners after the militant group failed to guarantee that their fighters would not take up arms again, a development that could further complicate the recently signed peace deal to reduce violence in the country.

Kabul's decision comes after President Ashraf Ghani last week announced the start of the process releasing 5,000 Taliban prisoners in phases as part of the US-Taliban peace deal and efforts to pave the way for intra-Afghan talks, reports Efe news.

"We are working on the lists, but it is unclear how long it will take to be completed," said Javid Faisal, spokesman for the country's National Security Council told Efe news on Sunday, a day after the government missed its deadline to begin the prisoners release process on Saturday.

The spokesperson said they have been assessing the lists of the Taliban prisoners to ensure the released fighters would not return to the war, after the Taliban failed to agree to that condition.

"So far no development has been made in this regard from the Taliban side, so far they have shown no commitment to peace, neither in action nor in talks," Faisal said.

"We release these persons to promote peace, not so that they can return to the war," he added.

But the Taliban have insisted that they will not enter the intra-Afghan talks until the 5,000 prisoners were released, as was agreed in the peace deal brokered by the US and signed in Doha on February 29.

"To delay the releasing process of the prisoners is an action against the agreement and shows that (Afghan government) is intentionally delaying the intra-Afghan negotiations," Suhail Shaheen, Taliban political Office Spokesman in Qatar told Efe news.

On March 11, President Ghani had issued a decree according to which 5,000 Taliban prisoners would be released in groups of 100, a process that was due to begin on Saturday.

According to the decree, only 1,500 Taliban prisoners would be initially released as a gesture of goodwill, with the remaining 3,500 to be released over the following two weeks, but only if there is a significant reduction of violence.

The proposal was immediately rejected by the militants, who pointed out that the deal stipulates the release of all of the prisoners before any talks can start.

The Doha deal hinges on several factors, including the total withdrawal of foreign troops within 14 months and an agreement on the part of the Taliban not to use Afghan territory to launch attacks in other countries, as well as the participation of the militants in peace talks with the Afghan government and the release of prisoners.



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