KABUL -- Afghan government officials met with the Taliban in Kabul for the first time to discuss a prisoner swap aimed at jump-starting a floundering peace process, officials said Wednesday (April 1).
The two sides met Tuesday (March 31) and planned to meet again on April 1 for further talks being observed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Afghan National Security Council said on Twitter.
"A technical committee of the Peace Initial Contact Group (PICG) of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan hosted a Taliban technical delegation in Kabul yesterday to hold in-person discussion on matters related to prisoners release," the security council said April 1.
"The two sides held face-to-face negotiations about the release of Afghan National Defense and Security Force personnel as well as Taliban prisoners," it added.
The meeting lasted for five hours and "the teams made good progress", Afghan National Security Council director-general for international affairs and regional co-operation Ahmad Shuja said on Twitter.
It was the first time the Taliban had been invited to Kabul to meet directly with government officials since US-led forces ousted them in 2001.
The two sides had spoken previously in a videoconference to discuss the prisoner issue.
The Qatari Embassy in Kabul was hosting the Taliban delegation, Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen tweeted April 1.
Washington signed a deal with the Taliban in late February in Doha that promised the withdrawal of US and foreign troops from Afghanistan by July 2021, provided the Taliban start talks with Kabul and adhere to other guarantees.
The deal required the Afghan government -- which was not a signatory to the accord -- to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners and for the insurgents to release 1,000 pro-government captives in return.
Taliban violence forced a delay
The swap was supposed to have taken place by March 10, at which point peace talks between the Taliban and the government were meant to begin.
However, the security situation has deteriorated as the Taliban refuses to reduce violence, with a series of militant attacks killing at least 20 members of Afghan security forces Sunday (March 29).
And on April 1, a roadside bomb killed at least seven civilians including six children in Helmand Province. Authorities blamed the Taliban.