Kabul, Mar 31 (efe-epa).- A Taliban delegation arrived in Kabul on Tuesday for a prisoner swap with the government as part of a peace deal between the insurgent group and the United States.
This is the first official delegation of the Taliban in the Afghan capital in 19 years since the group was ousted from power in 2001 by the US.
“A three-member technical team of the Islamic Emirate (as the Taliban group calls itself) arrived in Kabul for the transfer of prisoners,” spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted.
Mujahid said the team will be monitoring the “prisoner release” and would be providing the “necessary” support for the process.
The government and the militant group had earlier agreed to begin the prisoner release process on Tuesday only.
But the process got delayed because of the Taliban delegation arrived late in Kabul.
The Feb.29 peace deal between the US and the insurgents stipulated that the Afghan government, as a goodwill gesture, would release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for 1,000 Afghan security forces held by the insurgent group.
The Afghan government will be hosting the Taliban delegation in Bagram where the two sides will continue their next technical meetings in-person.
The first three meetings between the two sides were held through video conferences with government representatives from Kabul and the Taliban from Qatar.
The prisoner release process is expected to pave the way for intra-Afghan talks between the government and the Taliban to discuss a comprehensive ceasefire that will eventually pave the way for a political solution to the 19-year long war in the country.
Afghan government last week announced a 21-member team of negotiators and has asked the Taliban to form their delegation for intra-Afghan talks.
“Time for Taliban to stop excuses, forum a delegation, work on the agenda and seize this unparalleled opportunity for peace,” Javid Faisal, spokesperson for the country’s National Security Council, tweeted.
The US last week declared that it was cutting its aid to the Afghan government by $1 billion amid a political crisis between President Ashraf Ghani and chief executive Abdullah Abdullah triggered by alleged fraud in last year’s presidential polls.
The political feud has delayed the Afghan peace process.
Washington wants the government to start negotiating with the Taliban for a roadmap to pull out American troops from the war-ravaged country.
The plan was to start with the withdrawal of 8,600 soldiers within 135 days from the date of the signing of the deal. Currently, some 14,000 US troops remain deployed in the country. EFE-EPA