US special envoy Khalilzad asks for ‘urgent’ release of Taliban prisoners

The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has said that the US would like to see “prisoner releases begin as soon as possible in line with the U.S.-Taliban agreement.”

In a series of tweets posted on Wednesday night, March 18, he further noted that neither the Afghan government, nor the Taliban have released any prisoner so far despite the commitment to do so expressed by both sides.

“Coronavirus makes prisoner releases urgent; time is of the essence. We are committed to do our part and after consultation with all relevant sides,” Mr. Khalilzad added.

Expressing readiness to participate in initial meetings, Khalilzad notes that technical teams from both sides can start working together and focus on technical steps to begin prisoner releases as soon as possible.

Though the US envoy stresses on “face-to-face” meeting between the Afghan government and the Taliban as preferable, he suggests “virtual engagement” at the time of coronavirus and the resulting travel restrictions.

“We call on all sides to avoid provocative media statements,” the US envoy further asserted.

A day after his oath-taking ceremony, President Ghani issued a decree on March 10 offering a conditional and phased plan of Taliban prisoners release which was immediately rejected by the Taliban. The militant group reiterated on release of all their 5,000 prisoners at once and in line with the peace deal they have struck with the United States.

Based on prisoners release plan offered by Ghani, each of the Taliban inmates will be released after making a pledge not to return to fighting – return of released Taliban detainees to battlefield, have always been a major matter of concern for Afghan government and the Afghan people.

In his tweet, Khalilzad has also assured that the released prisoners will abide by the commitments made in the peace agreement and not return to the battlefield.

The US-Taliban agreement states that the released prisoners will be committed to “not pose a threat to the United States and its allies.”

Reacting to Khalilzad’s tweets, spokesperson for Afghanistan National Security Council, Javid Faisal, said today, March 19, that position of Afghan government on release of prisoners remains unchanged. ” The Taliban will have to stop killing Afghans and provide guarantees that those getting released shall not be returning to war,” he added.

In a separate tweet the US envoy posted earlier this morning, March 19, he calls on Afghans to resolve the political crisis resulting from election and dual inaugurations.