Conflicts & War

Afghan government releases 900 Taliban prisoners amid ceasefire

Kabul, May 26 (efe-epa).- The government of Afghanistan on Tuesday announced that it was releasing 900 Taliban prisoners as a goodwill gesture on the last day of a three-day ceasefire between the two sides on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr, one of the biggest Muslim festivals of the year.

The release comes as part of President Ashraf Ghani’s announcement on Sunday that he would release up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners in response to the Taliban unilaterally declaring the Eid ceasefire, a step which was reciprocated by the government. Authorities had already released 100 of these prisoners on Monday.

“In compliance with the decree of President (Ghani), 900 Taliban prisoners are being released from Bagram, Pul-e-Charkhi and other prisons of the country” Javid Faisal, the spokesperson for the country’s National Security Council said in a press conference in Kabul.

Faisal confirmed to EFE that the process to release the prisoners had “already begun” and was underway in 19 of the total 24 provinces, adding that all 900 prisoners would be released by the end of the day.

The spokesperson said that the prisoner release was a step for “the success of peace efforts, continuation of ceasefire and sooner start of face to face talks between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban.”

Faisal said the government was ready to extend the ceasefire if the Taliban agreed, and such an extension could expedite the prisoner release process and help begin a “face-to-face” dialog between the two sides.

However, he also warned that a return to violence by the insurgents could affect the process, which has been stuck numerous times due to breakdown of negotiations after the prisoner exchange was agreed upon in the peace agreement signed in Doha between Taliban and the United States in February.

According to the US-Taliban deal, a total of 5,000 Taliban prisoners are to be released in exchange of 1,000 Afghan personnel under the rebels’ custody before the commencement of intra-Afghan peace talks.

The total number of Taliban prisoners released by the government has now reached around 2,000 as the government had already released nearly a thousand prisoners since April, when the two sides began a slow and unilateral release of inmates. However, Tuesday’s release marks the biggest number of prisoners freed by the government in a single day.

The Taliban have also released a few hundred members of the security forces.

The prisoner swap had remained one of the biggest obstacle in the way of intra-Afghan negotiations, but the Eid ceasefire – the second in nearly two decades of war after a similar Eid truce in 2018 – could help boost the stalled peace efforts after the historic US-Taliban deal that guaranteed the departure of foreign troops from the country.

On May 12, the government had halted the prisoner swap after a series of attacks that it blamed on the Taliban and citing increased levels of violence by the rebels since the Doha agreement. EFE-EPA

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