Doha, Qatar – The Afghan government has deliberately delayed the release of Taliban prisoners to impede the so-called intra-Afghan talks, Taliban officials have told Al Jazeera, as at least 100 inmates remain in jail.
“Approximately 100 Taliban inmates are still in jail. Some have been released in the last 24 hours and we have been assured that those remaining will be released soon,” Mohammad Naeem Wardak, the spokesperson for Taliban’s political office in the Qatari capital, Doha, told Al Jazeera.
“Our agreement is with the Americans and we have asked them to ensure that their side of the agreement is implemented. They keep giving us various reasons for the delay. We are ready to talk as soon as the prisoner release is complete,” Wardak said, referring to the agreement signed in February.
Talks between the Afghan warring sides aimed at lasting peace are expected to begin in the Qatari capital following the completion of the prisoner swap agreed as part of the United States-Taliban deal signed in Doha.
The West-backed Afghan government has reluctantly released most of the 5,000 Taliban prisoners under pressure from the Trump administration, but is still holding some Taliban fighters who have serious charges against them.
Under the February deal, the US will withdraw its troops from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years – its longest overseas war – in exchange for security guarantees from the Taliban, which has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in 2001.
The Taliban should stop making excuses and start direct talks immediately.
On Wednesday, AFP reported the Trump administration will pull out more US troops from Afghanistan “in the coming days”. The US president has promised to bring back US troops as part of his election campaign promise.
“The delay in talks is due to non-compliance by elements in President Ashraf Ghani’s government,” a Taliban official told Al Jazeera, on condition of anonymity, referring to the Doha talks initially scheduled to be held in March.
The Taliban also said that it has had contact from within prisons which house their inmates.
On Monday, the head of the Taliban’s political office, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, and the newly appointed head of the Taliban’s negotiating team, Abdul Hakim Haqqani, met with the US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Qatar’s deputy prime minister in Doha, according to Wardak.
“Issues related to the prisoners’ release and immediate start of the intra-Afghan talks were discussed,” he said in a statement shared with Al Jazeera.
The Afghan government, however, insists that all Taliban prisoners have been released.
“We have released all prisoners on the Taliban list. The Taliban should stop making excuses and start direct talks immediately,” Javid Faisal, spokesperson for the Afghan National Security Council, told Al Jazeera.
“They should stop bloodshed of the Afghan people with their excuses. The process of the prisoner release has been completed.”
Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the National Reconciliation Council, which has been tasked to hold talks with the armed group, said the delegation would leave for Qatar soon and is ready for talks.
Kabul’s peace negotiation team is waiting in the Afghan capital to travel to the Qatari capital for the talks but delays have been relentless.
Diplomats close to the negotiations told Al Jazeera that any delays could be due to logistical issues and the talks will begin “soon”.
Last week, the Taliban announced the names of its 21-member negotiation team, led by Mawlavi Abdul Hakim, the armed group’s chief justice and a close aide of the Taliban chief, Haibatullah Akhundzada, replacing Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, who will be the deputy negotiator.
Also last week, officials from the armed group and the Afghan government told Al Jazeera that some high-profile Taliban prisoners would be transferred to Qatar ahead of the talks, which is expected to discuss the political future of Afghanistan.