The Afghan government released 200 Taliban prisoners over the past two days even though discussions about a prisoner swap with the insurgent group were halted after members of the Taliban walked out.
The New York Post reported that a group of 100 Taliban prisoners considered to be low-risk were released on Wednesday and the Afghan government announced Thursday it would release 100 more. Reuters reported that the move to release the prisoners was the “first step in a peace process with the hardline Islamists, despite the group’s suspension of talks on a planned prisoner exchange crucial to moving to formal talks to end years of war.”
The news outlet added that similar prisoner release debates have struggled to end military conflict between the U.S. and Afghanistan that has now been going on for 18 years.
“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,” said Javid Faisal, spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council.
More from Reuters:
A February pact between the United States and the Taliban, under which U.S.-led international forces will withdraw in phases in exchange for Taliban security guarantees, is the best chance to reduce U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan.
But peace hinges on talks between the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the militants. A prisoner exchange is meant to build confidence on both sides for those talks.
Despite this week’s setbacks over the prisoner releases, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said progress had been made since he visited Kabul on March 23 and also met Taliban officials in Qatar to iron out the differences.
The prisoners getting released Thursday would have similar profiles to the ones mentioned by Faisal, who added the release was part of an effort “for peace and containment of COVID-19.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the Agence France-Press that the prisoner release wasn’t good enough.
“Our stance has been very clear on prisoners swap,” Mujahid told the outlet. “Now, hundreds hundreds [sic] prisoners are released on a daily basis. This is not part of our process and it is unacceptable to us.”
Faisal said the Afghan government was releasing the prisoners despite the collapse of the peace talks in order “to push the peace process forward.”
More from the Post:
In February, the US signed a withdrawal deal with the Taliban that required Kabul — which was not a signatory to the accord — to take part in the prisoner exchange that was supposed to have led to “intra-Afghan” peace talks starting on March 10.
In the agreement, the US and other foreign forces are to withdraw from Afghanistan in 13 months.
The Washington Post reported that the “Afghan government is under immense pressure from the United States to move forward with peace talks with the Taliban following the signing of a U.S.-Taliban peace deal in February.” The outlet added that talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have been stalled for weeks, which does not bode well for the United States’ own attempts to broker a peace agreement with the terrorist organization.