Afghan government to hold direct talks with Taliban in historic meeting



Afghan President Ashraf Ghani gestures during a news conference in Kabul March 1. The Afghan government on March 25 finalised a negotiating team to enter peace talks with the Taliban. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

KABUL -- Afghan government officials will speak face-to-face with the Taliban in a historic meeting to discuss an initial release of insurgent prisoners, Afghanistan's National Security Council (NSC) announced Wednesday (March 25).

Also on Wednesday, the Afghan government finalised a negotiating team to enter peace talks with the Taliban, state TV reported.

The announcements come after the United States and the militant group signed a deal last month that paves the way for American and foreign forces to leave Afghanistan. Part of the accord requires the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, while the insurgents would release 1,000 captive government troops and police.

100 Taliban to be released by March 31

The two sides spoke earlier via videoconference and agreed to the initial release of 100 Taliban prisoners by March 31, the NSC said.

"100 prisoners will be freed on humanitarian grounds –- including health, age and vulnerability to #COVID19 –- by March 31 after guarantees by Taliban and the prisoners that they will not re-enter the fight," the NSC said on Twitter, referring to the novel coronavirus.

"To carry out these further discussions, a Taliban team will meet with the government face-to-face in Afghanistan in the coming days," it added.

The issue of the prisoners has been a major sticking point in the weeks since the United States and the Taliban signed a deal in Doha on February 29.

Ghani, who was not a signatory to the deal, initially refused the release before saying he would free 1,500 insurgents as a "gesture of goodwill", with plans to free another 3,500 prisoners after peace talks were under way.

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This is a good step and the people of Afghanistan want an intra-Afghan dialogue in which the government and the Taliban sit and talk together about a framework for the future joint government. There is no other option except making peace and establishing a joint government with Taliban. The government should know that it cannot destroy the Taliban without making peace with them. Taliban should also know that without compromising with the government and political leaders, they cannot overthrow this government easily. Even if they overthrow the government, still peace will not come in this country. And some groups will fight against the Taliban. Therefore, it is better that both the Taliban and the government stop their pertinacity and reach to an agreement over a government.