KABUL -- The Taliban have announced they will no longer participate in "fruitless" discussions with the Afghan government over a prisoner swap that was a key part of a deal with the United States.
In a tweet first sent in Pashtu about 11.30pm Afghan time on Monday (April 6), the Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen blamed the administration of President Ashraf Ghani for delaying the prisoner release "under one pretext or another".
"Therefore, our technical team will not participate in fruitless meetings with relevant sides starting from tomorrow," Shaheen, who is based in Doha, said in a subsequent tweet in English.
The two foes have been holding talks in Kabul since last week to try to finalise the prisoner swap that was originally supposed to have happened by March 10.
The release had been delayed because the Taliban are demanding the release of 15 "top commanders", said Matin Bek, a member of the government's negotiating team.
"We cannot release the killers of our people," Bek told reporters April 6.
"We don't want them to go back to the battlefield and capture a whole province," he said.
The government was ready to release as many as 400 low-threat Taliban prisoners as a goodwill gesture in return for a "considerable" reduction in violence, but the Taliban rejected that offer, said Bek.
Washington signed a deal with the Taliban in late February that suggested 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.
The militant group's move is the latest excuse to avoid coming to the peace table.
The Taliban last month continued posting photos touting the military training of its members, raising doubts among Afghans about how serious the militants were about peace.
That came after the militants on March 28 first stalled talks on the prisoner exchange when they rejected a negotiating team put together by the Afghan government, claiming that the team was not inclusive.
The militant group instead agreed only to meet a technical team from the Afghan government to discuss the contentious issue.
Meanwhile, even though the Taliban have killed scores of security personnel since the deal was signed, the Taliban April 5 released a statement accusing the United States of violating the "peace agreement".
Hours after the Taliban statement, Col. Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for the US forces in Afghanistan, responded on Twitter.
"USFOR-A [US Forces-Afghanistan] has upheld, and continues to uphold, the military terms of the U.S.-TB [Taliban] agreement; any assertion otherwise is baseless. USFOR-A has been clear - we will defend our ANDSF [Afghan National Defence and Security Forces] partners if attacked, in compliance with the agreement," Leggett wrote.
"The TB must reduce violence. A reduction in violence is the will of the Afghan people & necessary to allow the political process to work toward a settlement suitable for all Afghans. We once again call on all parties to focus their efforts on the global pandemic of COVID-19," he said.