Kabul, Taliban prepare for peace talks in Doha as prisoner exchange resumes



Former Taliban prisoners walk at the compound of the Herat governor's office July 11 after they were released from the Herat prison. [Herat governor's office]

KABUL -- The Afghan government has despatched a technical team to Qatar to prepare for long-delayed peace talks as authorities pressed ahead with the release of Taliban inmates, officials said Wednesday (September 2).

Kabul broke an impasse with the insurgent group on Monday (August 31) by resuming a protracted prisoner exchange, a key hurdle blocking the two warring sides from launching negotiations in Doha.

A small technical team has gone to Doha to prepare for starting the peace talks, Najia Anwari, a spokeswoman for the State Ministry for Peace, told AFP.

"They are there for logistical preparations," she said.


President Ashraf Ghani on September 2 in Kabul confers with members of a negotiating team for peace talks with the Taliban. [Afghan Presidential Palace]

"These efforts have put us closer than ever to the start of direct talks," she told AFP.

Kabul's team of negotiators will leave for Doha "very soon", she said.

President Ashraf Ghani September 2 met with the Afghan negotiating team at the presidential palace in Kabul.

"The government has fulfilled all its obligations in the peace process that the international community expected. The release of prisoners is a clear demonstration of the government's commitment to peace," Ghani said in a statement released by the Afghan presidential palace.

'Closer than ever'

Negotiations were initially supposed to begin in March but were repeatedly pushed back as the Taliban and the Afghan government squabbled over the prisoner exchange, which included freeing hundreds of battle-hardened insurgents.

Kabul had balked at the release of the final 400 Taliban inmates, whom Ghani called "a danger to the world".

Their release encountered opposition from Paris and Canberra because those on the list included militants tied to the killing of French and Australian civilians and troops in Afghanistan.

It is not known if those militants have been released.

The Taliban have said they are willing to begin peace talks "within a week" of the prisoner exchange being completed and blamed Kabul for delaying the negotiations so far.

At least 200 prisoners have been released since August 31 and the process "will continue today too", a senior government official told AFP September 2 on condition of anonymity.

Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation, the body leading the peace process, confirmed the ongoing release.

"All obstacles have been removed," said spokesman Faraidoon Khwazoon. "The prisoners' exchange will be completed soon."

"Our prisoners have been released, and we see this as a positive step that paves the ground for the start of intra-Afghan talks," Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told AFP.

In return for their prisoners, the militants had released four Afghan commandos who had been held captive and will free two more soon, he said.

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These talks will not yield result, because both sides, the Afghan government officials and Taliban, do not want to take a step back from their position. The red line of the government is democratic system, but the red line of Taliban is emirate system. Peace comes when both sides give up their red lines. Both sides should form a government in the name of the Islamic Republic of Emirate, but neither Taliban nor the Afghan government will do so. On one hand, the government is preparing for intra-Afghan talks, and on the other hand, it is recruiting militias in the north of the country, contrary to the US agreement and appointed Nizamuddin Qaisari to lead these militias. So when they have that much hostility with Taliban and they are afraid of Taliban’s coming, do you think there will be peace here? Taliban also have a similar position to that of the Afghan government; they want the Afghan authorities to hand over power to Taliban, because they defeated the United States and the United States was forced to sign an agreement with the group to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. Therefore, peace will not come unless both sides show moderation and amenity. I hope my hypothesis to be proven wrong, and that both sides can achieve a nationwide ceasefire and a lasting peace in Qatar.