Security

Ghani vows to complete Taliban prisoner release

AFP

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An Afghan National Army soldier escorts a bus transporting released Taliban prisoners from the Bagram prison on May 26. Afghan authorities are opening prison doors for thousands of Taliban inmates in a high-stakes gambit to ensure the insurgent group begins peace talks with Kabul. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

KABUL -- President Ashraf Ghani Thursday (June 11) vowed to complete a Taliban prisoner release that is a key condition to the launch of peace talks with the insurgents.

Once the swap is done, the two sides have pledged to begin negotiations that could end almost 19 years of war.

Under the terms of the February deal, Kabul has pledged to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners in a swap that would see the insurgents release 1,000 Afghan security force captives.

Kabul has already released 3,000 prisoners, with the remainder due to be freed shortly, Ghani said.

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Policemen stand guard outside the Sher Shah Suri mosque after a bomb ripped through a crowd during Friday prayers in Kabul on June 12. [STR/AFP]

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President Ashraf Ghani speaks after Eid ul Fitr prayers May 24 at the Presidential Palace in Kabul. [ARG]

"The remaining commitment -- my colleagues and I have made the decision to release an additional 2,000 prisoners within a very short period. We will announce the date soon," Ghani said in a video interview with a Washington-based think-tank.

The Taliban have not been transparent about how many Afghan soldiers they still hold, said Ghani.

"The number keeps shifting. We need clarity regarding the fate of those that are with them and assurance that the last person remaining with them is released," he told the Atlantic Council's South Asia Centre and the US Institute for Peace.

Moving toward peace

The prisoner release so far is "a positive step" and marks "good progress", Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted.

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad also called the latest developments "very positive" and said that intra-Afghan talks appeared closer than ever.

"All sides must work to get to the negotiations table ASAP and prevent spoilers from undermining the process and betraying the hopes and yearning of Afghan people for peace," he wrote on Twitter.

Ghani said he would elaborate on the next steps in the peace process next week and called for a "humanitarian ceasefire" to provide food and medical assistance during the coronavirus crisis.

"In terms of reduction of violence, there has been [a reduction], but the casualty figures still average around 60-70 a day," he said. "The number of fatalities unfortunately are averaging 30 [per day]."

Meanwhile, at least four people were killed after a blast ripped through a crowd during Friday (June 12) at a mosque in Kabul, Afghan officials said, in the latest attack on the city ahead of potential talks with insurgents.

The attack comes a week after the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) claimed an attack that killed two people, including a popular prayer leader, at a mosque on the edge of Kabul's heavily fortified Green Zone.

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Finally, Ashraf Ghani failed against the decision of the United States and released 5,000 Taliban prisoners. It is a great shame for Ashraf Ghani, as now he comes and says that they are completing the release of Taliban prisoners. When he knew that he could not do anything without the permission of the United States and that he did not have the authority to decide against the United States’ agreement or to violate from the agreement that the United States has signed with Taliban, it would have been better for him not to have said from the beginning that he wanted to release all 5,000 prisoners, and he should have released all at once. Now hundreds of national security and defense forces would not have been martyred, and Taliban would not have intensified their war.

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Before Ashraf Ghani was insisting that the release of Taliban prisoners was a red line for him, but now why does he want to release all Taliban prisoners? Every day Taliban kill innocent people and refuse to make peace with the government, but the government releases the prisoners. All Taliban prisoners will become a headache for the Afghan government in the future, and will challenge the government and intensify war in Afghanistan.

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