Kabul, Sep 3 (efe-epa).- The prisoner exchange process between the Afghan government and the Taliban concluded Thursday after a delay of nearly six months, clearing the way for the intra-Afghan talks that potentially could bring an end to nearly two decades of war in the country.
The peace talks, as per an agreement between the United States and the Taliban in Doha in late February, were delayed due to a disagreement over the prisoner swap deal in which 5,000 Taliban fighters were to be released in exchange for 1,000 government personnel.
Around 320 of the 5,000 militants were still held back by the government over their criminal record. They were finally released on Thursday, while the insurgents freed the Afghan commandos they had been holding on to due to the disagreements.
“The prisoner release process is ended, now the Intra-Afghan talks process must begin immediately,” the National Security Council said in a statement.
“Our commandos are released, government also released Taliban’s prisoners, the only remaining (Taliban) prisoners are those persons, regarding whom there are reservations by (some of) Afghanistan’s international partners,” the statement said.
Australia and France have opposed the release of up to seven Taliban members who were involved in attacks on their nationals in Afghanistan and who have remained in the custody of the government.
However, the security council underlined that “diplomatic efforts are under way to solve that problem too,” referring to the release of these remaining prisoners.
Although the government did not reveal the number of prisoners released by the Taliban, the security council’s spokesperson Javid Faisal had recently revealed to EFE that the insurgents had some 22 commandos in their captivity.
Taliban spokespersons, Suhail Shaheen and Zabihullah Mujahid, did not offer any information in this regard.
“We are on the verge of starting intra-Afghan peace negotiations. Reduction in violence and declaration of a ceasefire is one of the main demands of the people,” Faraidoon Khwazoon, the spokesperson for the High Council for National Reconciliation, said in a statement.
“The time has arrived that both sides (government and Taliban) shun the violence and gift the ceasefire to the Afghan people,” Khwazoon, added indicating the possibility of an end to the war in the country that started with the US invasion in 2001.
The instra-Afghan talks are to be held in Qatar, although the exact date has not been decided yet. EFE-EPA