Afghanistan to free 900 more Taliban prisoners: Government

The move comes after President Ashraf Ghani announced release of Taliban prisoners following Eid ceasefire by Taliban.

Afghanistan''s President Ashraf Ghani, looks on during a joint news conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, in Kabul, Afghanistan February 29, 202
The prisoner swap has been delayed as President Ghani refused to release Taliban prisoners in one go [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

Afghan authorities plan to release 900 more Taliban prisoners, as a rare ceasefire announced by the armed group entered its third and last day.

“There is a decision to release 900 today,” National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal told AFP news agency on Tuesday. But the exact number could vary subject to legal procedures, he added.

The Afghan government also urged the Taliban to extend the three-day ceasefire which is due to expire at midnight on Tuesday (19:30 GMT).

“It is important to extend the ceasefire and, to avoid bloodshed, the Afghan government is ready to extend it,” Javid Faisal, the spokesman for the Afghan national security adviser, told a news conference.

The pause in fighting, which came into effect on Sunday to mark the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr, and the prisoner release offer hope of peace for the South Asian country ravaged by nearly 20 years of war.

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.

But the prisoner swap has been delayed as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani refused to release all 5,000 Taliban prisoners at once. So far, Kabul has freed about 1,000 Taliban inmates, while the armed group had released about 300 Afghan security forces it held captive.

On Sunday, President Ghani’s spokesman responded to the Taliban’s ceasefire offer by announcing plans to release up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners.

Afghan government releases 100 Taliban
The Afghan government has so far released bout 1,000 Taliban prisoners [Photo courtesy: National Security Council of Afghanistan/Anadolu]

On Monday, 100 Taliban prisoners were released as a “goodwill” gesture that will likely create a positive atmosphere before the so-called intra-Afghan talks envisaged in the Doha agreement.

The ceasefire, only the second of its kind in the 19-year conflict, has raised hopes of an extended truce that could pave the way for long-awaited peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government.

President Ghani has said his administration is ready to begin the negotiations, seen as key to ending the war in the impoverished country.

Government negotiators would be headed by Ghani’s former rival Abdullah Abdullah after the two signed a power-sharing deal last week that ended a months-long political crisis.

On Tuesday, officials said the ceasefire, the country’s first initiated by the Taliban, had largely been observed.

The Taliban’s offer of a ceasefire came just days after its leader Haibatullah Akhunzada urged Washington “not to waste” the opportunity offered by the Doha agreement that set the stage for the withdrawal of US troops from the country after more than 18 years.

The only other comparable pause in violence came over Eid in 2018, an olive branch that had been offered by Ghani.

Violence in Afghanistan escalated after the Taliban signed the agreement with Washington.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has welcomed the ceasefire and said the freed Taliban fighters should not return to the battlefield.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies