The Afghan government said Friday they have begun the release of 400 Taliban prisoners, in an important step towards peace talks that have been delayed since February following the US-Taliban peace deal in Doha, Qatar.
The prisoner release has been one of the Taliban’s top demands for moving forward with peace negotiations with the Afghan government. The US had promised to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in exchange for a pledge from the Taliban to hold peace talks.
The Doha deal had stipulated that Kabul release 5,000 Taliban militants in return for 1,000 Afghan government prisoners. While Kabul released most of the Taliban prisoners, it was reluctant to release the final 400.
This had prompted the Taliban to allege that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was not interested in negotiations.
The Taliban release was finally approved over the weekend following agathering of thousands tribal elders and prominent Afghansknown as the “Loya Jirga.”
Although the move has been considered necessary for the larger peace process between the Taliban and the Afghan government, it has drawn widespread concern as reports have emerged that dozens of the released Taliban militants were pinpointed as being involved in deadly attacks.
Among the 400 detainees, 156 had been sentenced to death, according to a list provided to Germany’s DPA news agency by the US National Security Council. Other militants were convicted for homicide, kidnapping, drug smuggling and other serious crimes.
Ghani warned on Thursday that the released militants were “likely to pose a danger both to us and to the world.”
“Until this issue, there was a consensus on the desirability of peace but not on the cost of it,” Ghani said in a video conference organized by a US think tank.
The Loya Jirga has asked Afghan authorities to monitor the freed militants and ensure they do not carry out attacks.
Ahead of the jirga, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had urged the gathering to release the prisoners, although he acknowledged the move was “unpopular.”
wmr/rt (AFP, dpa)