0310 GMT January 17, 2021
A Feb. 29 pact between the Taliban and the United States has cleared with way for the withdrawal of US-led international forces after more than 18 years of war, but peace has to be negotiated between the militants and the US-backed government, Reuters wrote.
The Taliban have promised to open talks with the government as part of the accord but say the release of their 5,000 comrades held by the government was also part of the deal, and they won’t talk until all are freed.
President Ashraf Ghani has declined to release all 5,000 in one go. Instead, he has ordered the release of an initial 1,500, with the other 3,500 to be set free in parallel with progress in the peace talks.
“We never agreed to any conditional release of prisoners,” Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban based in Doha, said.
“If someone claims this, it will be against the peace accord that we signed on February 29.”
The main element of the US withdrawal agreement is a Taliban promise that they will not let Afghanistan be used by terrorists to attack the United States and its allies.
Under the pact, US President Donald Trump will end the war and pull out all American troops within 14 months.
The release of the prisoners – including some 1,000 government troops held by the militants – is meant to be a confidence-building measure to pave the way for intra-Afghan talks.
The conflicting positions on the issue between the Taliban and Ghani’s government appears to stem from different wording in documents exchanged between the United States and the Taliban on the one hand, and the United States and government on the other.
“It is properly explained in the peace accord that first 5,000 prisoners would be freed and then the Afghan dialogue would be initiated,” Shaheen said.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy who was the key negotiator in talks with the Taliban, has urged both sides to sit down for talks on the problem.
A senior Afghan government official said that the government position as set out by Ghani would not change.
“It is not practical for us to release all 5,000 at once without a Taliban commitment for direct negotiations and a significant reduction in violence,” said the official, who declined to be identified.