The Afghanistan Government on Sunday granted the release of 400 “hard-core” Taliban members, paving the way for direct peace talks with the insurgent group in the hope to end a war that spans roughly two decades.
The Afghan council, and the consultative Loya Jigra, passed a resolution with hundreds of delegates agreeing to free the last batch of approximately 5000 Taliban prisoners, the CNN World reported.
The demand for release of the prisoners was one of the major conditions that the Taliban placed before the American counterparts for joining any peace negotiations. The condition was eventually agreed upon under the U.S.-Taliban peace deal signed in February.
Additionally, under the agreement, US promised to reduce its troops to 8600 within the first 135 days of the agreement. In return, the Taliban would reduce terrorist operations and violence, and guarantee that none of its members would threaten the security of the US and its allies.
On Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani assured that he would lay the final signatures on the order for the release of the inmates in his address to the Loya Jigra in Kabul.
The resolution passed by the council read, “the Jirga approves the release of four hundred Taliban prisoners in order to remove obstacles to the start of peace talks and stop the bloodshed.”
It added that the release of the prisoners should be followed by immediate efforts to initiate direct negotiations “without any excuse” and called on the Taliban to “fulfill their obligation to release all the civilians and military prisoners immediately”, the CNN reported.
The decision to set the prisoners free has not come as much of a surprise. Right from the beginning, the delegates of the council were urged by the US to take the difficult step so that a ground could be made for entering negotiations and bring the war to an end, an Indian Express article read.
Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation and chairman of the Loya Jigra said that although no dates have been set, the first round of peace talks are planned to be held in Doha, the capital city of Qatar,
The Taliban maintains its political office in Doha.
A deal on the prisoner swap was delayed on several occasions due to disagreements between the Taliban and the Afghan government, and because of differences between the government and the opposition led by Abdullah Abdullah.
Additionally, the Afghan government had complained about an uptake in Taliban attacks across the country, which ran contrary to the commitments of reducing the levels of violence that the insurgent group made under the peace agreement.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is keen on withdrawing troops from the region ahead of the elections this November. The U.S defence secretary Mark Spencer said that the U.S. will downsize to fewer than 5,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of November, the Reuters reported.
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