The U.S. and the coalition forces are slated to withdraw from Afghanistan within 13 months if the Taliban meet certain requirements of the peace deal reached between them and the U.S.
Right now, the biggest sticking point to the implementation of the peace deal is the release of the Taliban fighters that are locked up in Afghan prisons. The situation reached a point where the Taliban walked out of peace talks with the Afghan government, even after the first 100 prisoners were set free on Wednesday. And the prisoners’ release is a critical first step to intra-Afghan negotiations aimed at bringing an end to the Afghanistan war that has gone on for the past 19 years.
But on Thursday, the Afghan government may have extended an olive branch of sorts by releasing another 100 Taliban, even though the Taliban called the piecemeal release of their insurgents “unacceptable.”
Under the U.S. peace deal with the Taliban, which the Afghan government was not a part of, the Afghans would release 5,000 Taliban that are held in Afghan prisons. The Taliban would also release 1,000 government officials that they are holding hostage.
Afghan President Ghani’s problems are piling up: Besides the prisoner exchange, he’s having to deal with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that is sweeping across the world. And his presidency is challenged by the runner-up of last year’s elections, Abdullah Abdullah, who although having lost the elections challenged the results claiming election fraud. Although an independent election commission confirmed the results, Abdullah declared himself president and had a swearing-in ceremony at the same time and in the same building as Ghani.
This presents a disjointed, weak front and means that the Afghan government isn’t negotiating with the Taliban from a position of strength.
Although initially, the government of President Ghani was reluctant to release any Taliban prisoners, President Trump threatened to withhold $1 billion dollars in aid unless the Afghan government followed up with the releases. So, they’re finally going through with it; but are doing so slowly and deliberately, which is angering the Taliban.
“The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan released 100 Taliban prisoners today based on their health condition, age and length of remaining sentence, as part of our efforts for peace,” said Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid called the piecemeal release totally inadequate. And the Taliban want 15 of their “top commanders” to be released, while the government is releasing low-level Taliban members instead. “They should be released based on our list,” Suhail Shaheen a Taliban political spokesman told the AP.
“Our stance has been very clear on prisoners swap,” Mujahid said in a statement to the media. “Now, hundreds of prisoners are released on a daily basis. This is not part of our process and it is unacceptable to us.”
The problem for the Taliban is that they can’t verify that the released prisoners are their members.
When asked why Kabul was still freeing Taliban inmates even though the prisoner swap apparently collapsed, Faisal said, “We need to push the peace process forward.”
Despite the flap over the prisoner releases, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week that progress had been made since he visited Kabul on March 23.
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