Kabul: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Thursday that the Afghan government is about to release Taliban prisoners, which is a key condition for peace talks with insurgents.
According to the terms of the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February, Kabul has promised to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for these rebels releasing 1,000 Afghan security forces.
Once the exchange is complete, the two parties promise to start peace negotiations to end the war of nearly 19 years.
Ghana said that Kabul has released 3,000 prisoners, and the rest will be released soon.
“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 think tank.
Ghani, who this year started his second term after a bitterly contested election that was marred with fraud claims, complained that the Taliban had not been transparent about how many Afghan soldiers they still hold.
“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,” Ghani told the Atlantic Council s South Asia Center and the US Institute for Peace.
Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said on Twitter the prisoner release so far was “a positive step” and marked “good progress”.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US negotiator on Afghanistan, 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.
The Taliban and Afghan security forces observed a three-day ceasefire last month and have generally reduced violence across Afghanistan since then in an attempt to set the stage for peace talks.
Ghani said he would elaborate 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 (one) but the casualty figures still average around 60-70 a day. The number of fatalities unfortunately are averaging 30,” he said.
Ghana did not disclose whether the casualties were civilians, combatants or a combination of the two.
Ghani said that women will become an important part of the final peace negotiation team.
According to the U.S. Taliban agreement, the US military and foreign troops plan to leave Afghanistan in the coming months.