Afghanistan to release 400 major Taliban prisoners for peace talks
By Baber Khan Sahel,
Kabul, Aug 9 (efe-epa).- Afghanistan on Sunday decided to set free 400 contentious Taliban prisoners, clearing the last major hurdle in the way of intra-Afghan peace talks between the government and the insurgents to end decades of war.
President Ashraf Ghani, who had withheld the release of these Taliban prisoners accused of serious crimes like murder, kidnapping, and drug smuggling, took the decision a grand consultative meeting of tribal elders, community leaders, and politicians cleared their freedom order.
“Your decisions are now the decisions of the nation,” Ghani said at the end of the three-day grand assembly, or Loya Jirga, in Kabul.
“I will sign the decree today which I was not authorized to sign it before. Now I will sign it after your endorsement.”
The president said the jirga by taking the decision had “issued a message that will remove all obstacles” in the Afghan peace process.
“The Afghan nation and the government accept Taliban as a reality of the country. Now, the Taliban should prove whether they accept the diversity and unity of the nation or not.”
He urged the insurgents to declare a nationwide ceasefire – one of the key points in the resolution passed by the jirga.
Abdullah Abdullah, Ghani’s rival in the presidential election who was appointed as the head of the high council for national reconciliation in a power-sharing agreement in May, welcomed the decision.
“The decision of the jirga removed the last obstacle hindering the start of intra-Afghan talks,” said Abdullah, who was elected as the chairman of the assembly that began on Friday.
The resolution was passed after a marathon consultation among more than 3,200 participants from various social and political groups across the country under tight security measures in Kabul. Some 30 percent of the participants were women.
The resolution suggested that if there were foreign nationals among these Taliban prisoners, “they should be handed over to their related countries” of origin after taking fair security guarantees.
The participants urged the Taliban to ensure that the prisoners “will not return” to the battlefield after they are set free.
As per the US-Taliban peace agreement, signed in February in Doha, the Afghan government was to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for the rebels freeing 1,000 of its captives by Mar. 10 as a precursor to intra-Afghan talks.
However, it took the government almost five months to release 4,600 prisoners as per a Taliban list in a lengthy process beset with disagreements.
The government has withheld the release of the remaining 400 inmates as they are.
The resolution urged the international community to prevent the interference of those nations in Afghanistan affairs who are “supporting terrorist groups”.
The jirga also emphasized that Islamic values, the role of Islamic scholars, democracy, and achievements of the past two decades should be protected during the peace process” and the current democratic political system and rights of the minorities should not be violated. EFE-EPA