Afghan Government Releases 100 Taliban Prisoners due to US Pressure


KABUL – The Afghan government has released 100 Taliban prisoners on Wednesday, a government official said, a day after the armed group said it was walking out of talks with Kabul.

Javid Faisal, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Office of the National Security Council, said, “The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan released 100 Taliban prisoners today based on their health condition, age and length of remaining sentence, as part of our efforts for peace,” Al-Jazeera reported.

The Taliban had accused the Afghan government of delaying the prisoner swap that was part of an agreement signed with the United States in the Qatari capital, Doha.

The two foes have been negotiating since last week to try to finalize the prisoner swap that was originally supposed to have happened by March 10 and pave the way for “intra-Afghan” peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban. But the swap has been beset with problems, with Kabul claiming the Taliban wants 15 “top commanders” to be released, while the armed group has accused Afghan authorities of wasting time.

The US signed the deal with the Taliban on February 29 that required the Afghan government – which was not a signatory to the agreement – to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners, and for the armed group to release 1,000 pro-government captives in return. As per the terms of the deal, America promised to withdraw US and foreign troops from Afghanistan by July next year, in return for security guarantees from the Taliban.

On Tuesday, Suhail Shaheen, a  spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, said the group recalled its negotiators from Kabul, hours after it suspended talks on the prisoner exchange with the Afghan government.

“The intentional delays in the release of our prisoners violates the peace agreement, therefore we call back our technical team back from Kabul,” Shaheen said in a tweet.

Despite the setback over the prisoner releases, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said progress had been made since he visited Kabul on March 23 to press Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah to end a feud over the results of a disputed September election.

“We’ve made some progress, but we see them posturing in the media, we see statements that come out,” he told a State Department news conference.

While the feud has persisted, Pompeo’s visit and his announcement of a $1bln cut in US aid to Afghanistan appeared to have an impact, with Ghani on March 26 announcing a delegation for peace talks with the Taliban that won Abdullah’s endorsement. Pompeo reiterated a call for those negotiations to start.

“I’m confident in the days ahead we’ll have things that look like steps backward, but I’m also hopeful that all the parties are sincere and wanting what’s good for the Afghan people,” he said.

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