Afghanistan’s top peace negotiator on Saturday said the government is ready to start direct talks with the Taliban ‘at any moment’. Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, said the current reduction in violence and ongoing prisoner swaps have set the tone for launching the peace talks.
“The announcement of the ceasefire, a reduction in violence and the exchange of prisoners have all paved the way for a good beginning,” Abdullah said at his first press conference since taking on the role.
The Taliban had offered a rare three-day ceasefire that ended on Tuesday night to mark the Eid Al Fitr festival.
Officials have blamed the Taliban for carrying out deadly attacks against armed forces since it ended, but also acknowledged an overall fall in violence across much of the country.
The government responded by accelerating the release of hundreds of Taliban prisoners, reported AlKhaleej Today.
A US-Taliban agreement signed in February in Qatar’s capital, Doha, stipulated that the Afghan government would release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners while the Taliban would free about 1,000 Afghan security forces personnel.
The prisoner swap was mentioned in the agreement as a “confidence-building measure” before long-awaited peace talks between the government and Taliban.
Before Sunday’s announcement, Kabul had already released about 1,000 Taliban inmates while the Taliban had freed roughly 300 members of the Afghan security forces, according to reports.
The Taliban said it was committed to freeing prisoners, but reminded Kabul that the agreement was to “release 5,000” of their members as agreed with the US in Doha, reported Al-Jazeera.
The political feud and delays over the prisoner exchange lead to delay in talks.
“We were not on the same page, now we all are united, (we are) all on the same page on the question of peace,” said Matin Bek, a senior government official to AlKhaleej Today.
He said the talks with Taliban could start next month.
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