US, WASHINGTON (NEWS OBSERVATORY) — The Taliban said on Wednesday that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s plan to conditionally release its prisoners violated the agreement the militants had with the United States and that it would not hold talks with the Afghan government before the release of all 5,000 prisoners.
The February 29 deal between the Taliban and Washington paved the way for the withdrawal of US-led international forces after more than 18 years of war, but peace must be negotiated between the militants and the Washington-backed government.
The Taliban have vowed to start talks with the government within the framework of the agreement, but say the government’s release of its 5,000 prisoners was also part of the agreement and that it would not enter into talks before all of them were released.
“We have never agreed to any conditional release of prisoners,” Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman in Doha, told Reuters by phone.
“If anyone claims that, he will be against the peace agreement that we signed on February 29,” he added.
The most important element of the US withdrawal agreement is the Taliban’s pledge that it will not let terrorists use Afghanistan to attack the United States and its allies.
The agreement will allow US President Donald Trump to fulfill his pledge to end the war and bring all troops home within 14 months.
The release of prisoners, including about a thousand government forces held by the militant movement, is aimed at building confidence with the aim of paving the way for direct talks between Afghans to begin.
The varied attitudes of the Taliban and the Ghani government over the issue appear to be due to the divergent drafting of documents between the United States and the Taliban on the one hand, and the United States and the Afghan government on the other.
“The peace agreement has made it clear that the first 5,000 prisoners will be released and after that the Afghan dialogue will begin,” Shaheen said.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy to Afghanistan, urged both sides to sit down for talks to solve the problem.
Despite the agreement between Washington and the Taliban, fighting continued in various parts of Afghanistan.
A senior Afghan government official told Reuters that the government position, which Ghani had set, would not change.
“It will not be practical for us to release the five thousand, all at once, in the absence of a commitment on the part of the Taliban to conduct direct talks and reduce much of the violence,” he added, asking not to be named.
He said the government’s decision to release 1,500 prisoners was a sign of goodwill and that the Taliban should reciprocate.
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