Afghanistan government will be releasing 1,500 Taliban prisoners

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued a decree to release 1,500 Taliban prisoners in the coming days, paving the way for peace talks with the insurgent group in intra-Afghanistan to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan.

“The process of releasing 1,500 Taliban prisoners will be completed within 15 days, with 100 prisoners walking every day from Afghan jails,” the decree announced Tuesday, adding that the release would begin Saturday.

According to the Decree, negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government to end the war must run parallel to the publication.

Once direct talks begin between the Taliban and the Afghan government, 500 prisoners will be released every two weeks until another 3,500 are released, tweeted spokesperson Sediq Sediqqi. The release of the 3,500 inmates is conditional on a significant reduction in violence, Sediqqi added.

Ghani’s opposition to a prisoner swap was a sticking point weighing on the deal between the US and the Taliban. Under the deal signed by the U.S. and Taliban negotiators on Feb. 29, 5,000 Taliban prisoners would be released by the Afghan government prior to intra-Afghan negotiations, which were scheduled to begin Tuesday. In exchange, according to Reuters, the Taliban will free up to 1,000 prisoners from the Afghan Government.

The day after the signing of the U.S .- Taliban agreement, Ghani refused the release of Taliban prisoners as a precondition for negotiations. 

It’s uncertain whether the Taliban will support the Afghanistan agreement to free some prisoners before the talks, and the others after the talks.

“I advise both sides to sit down immediately for talks on this topic in Doha, Qatar, to iron out the specifics,” tweeted in Persian Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy who was the main negotiator in the talks.

“This was decided by the Afghan Government. That will be an important step in the peace process when adopted,” he said.

The prisoner release order came after the Taliban announced it would no longer stick to the reduction in violence it had agreed upon after signing the deal. In the days following the settlement, the Taliban carried out hundreds of assaults against Afghan forces, triggering a defensive US airstrike.

The Middle East’s top U.S. general said Tuesday’s Taliban attacks were “higher than we think is compatible” with the agreement.

Ghani, who was again sworn in for the presidency on Monday, said in his inauguration speech, “The release of Taliban prisoners and people’s peace and security are interrelated.”

In separate ceremonies, Monday Ghani and his political rival Abdullah Abdullah were both sworn in as president. Reuters announced that, in return for the US and international support of his inauguration, Ghani agreed to release the Taliban hostages, a clause of the US agreement. Unique U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad attended Monday’s ceremony in Ghani.

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