The Afghan government released 100 Taliban prisoners on Wednesday, a day after the militant group threatened to walk out of the talks.
“Pursuant to President Ghani’s decree of March 11, 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 and containment of COVID-19,” Javid Faisal, spokesman for the country’s Office National Security Council, said in a tweet posted on Wednesday, April 08.
Earlier, the Taliban had accused the Afghan government of an intentional delay in prisoner swap while the Afghan government was saying that the Taliban were demanding release of 15 group’s top commanders.
Under the deal, signed between Washington and the Taliban, the Afghan government has to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, the Taliban have to release 1,000 pro-government forces, who are in their custody, in return.
In a separate tweet posted the following day, April 09, the NSC spokesman said that another 100 Taliban prisoners will be released on the same day as part of the government efforts for peace and containment of Covid-19.
Talking to BBC Persian Service, Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, said that the release of the group’s prisoners was part of the US-Taliban deal. He said that they were out of the process.
Though Ghani’s plan for phased and conditional release of the Taliban prisoners was immediately rejected by the Taliban, the group’s technical team arrived in Kabul, in unprecedented move, to discuss technical issues with the Afghan officials. Spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Suhail Shaheen, said that release of their prisoners has so far been delayed under “one pretext or another” by the Afghan government. He noted that the process should have already started in accordance with the US-Taliban agreement.
Speaking at a press conference held on Monday, April 06, Abdul Matin Beig, a member of the government-led negotiating team, said that the Taliban technical team is stressing on release of 15 commanders of the group who were behind several high-profile “suicide and complex attacks”.
As stipulated in the US-Taliban agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners should have released in exchange for up to 1,000 prisoners of the “other side”, Afghan government, before March 10, first day of intra-Afghan talks set in the agreement. The prisoner swap was, however, delayed as feud over disputed election results continued.
According to the Afghan Analyst Network (ANA), Ghani had suggested in his first presser on March 01, 2020, a day after the US-Taliban agreement, that any action to release prisoners must be discussed during direct negotiation with the Taliban. At odds to that stance, Ghani announced a phased release plan for the 5,000 Taliban prisoners during his inauguration ceremony, on March 09, attended by foreign diplomats, particularly US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
Though Ghani has made many compromises with the Taliban—from swapping Haqqani prisoners with two teachers of the American university in Afghanistan who were held by the militant group as hostages to consenting to a phased release of the Taliban prisoners –, he seems strict on having the control over selecting prisoners of the Taliban for release. In a detailed report, the ANA concludes that “releasing Taliban prisoners could not be done” under the amnesty law of Afghanistan, adding that Khalilzad seemingly agrees Ghani’s current position on the prisoner’s release.