Taliban reject talks until 5,000 prisoners released in accordance with US deal

The Taliban will not take part in intra-Afghan talks until 5,000 of their prisoners are released in accordance with an agreement reached with Washington, a spokesman said on Monday, activists also warning of new attacks on Afghan forces at the end of the truce agreement.

Under an agreement between the United States and the Taliban Islamists signed on Saturday, the two sides pledged to work for the release of combat prisoners and political prisoners as a measure of confidence.

The agreement provides that up to 5,000 imprisoned Taliban prisoners will be released in exchange for 1,000 Afghan government prisoners by March 10.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who was not involved in the talks, rejected the request.

“We are fully prepared for intra-Afghan talks, but we are awaiting the release of our 5,000 prisoners,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters by telephone.

“If our 5,000 prisoners – 100 or 200 more or whatever – are not released, there will be no intra-Afghan talks.”

The United States has said it hopes negotiations for a permanent political settlement and a ceasefire could begin in the coming days, but Western diplomats and analysts are considering serious challenges.

Ghani said on Sunday that US President Donald Trump had not called for the release of the prisoners and that the issue of the release of the prisoners should be discussed as part of a comprehensive peace agreement.

“The Afghan government has not committed to releasing 5,000 Taliban prisoners before the start of any potential negotiations,” Gedi spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said Monday in response to Taliban statements.

He added that the prisoner’s release “cannot be a precondition for the talks” and should instead be part of the negotiations.

A joint statement by the United States and the Afghan government says the government would take part in discussions on “the feasibility of releasing a large number of prisoners on both sides”, but does not mention the precise number or timetable.

Zabihullah said that the majority of the prisoners on the 5,000 list had been captured by US forces and were held in Afghan government prisons and that they had given priority to sick and older prisoners.

“People benefit from reduced violence”

U.S.-led forces ousted extremist power activists in 2001.

Zabihullah said an agreement to reduce violence in the seven days before Saturday’s Doha pact had officially ended.

“As we receive reports that people are benefiting from the reduction in violence, we do not want to spoil their happiness, but that does not mean that we will not resume our normal military activities at the level we were before”, a- he declared. said.

“It could be anytime, it could be after an hour, tonight, tomorrow, or the day after.”

The war in Afghanistan has been deadlocked for over 18 years, with Taliban forces controlling or fighting more territory, but unable to capture and detain major urban centers.

Under the agreement, the United States is committed to reducing the number of its troops in Afghanistan from 13,000 to 8,600 within 135 days of its signing.

It is also determined to work with its allies to proportionately reduce the number of coalition forces in Afghanistan during this period, if the Taliban respect their security guarantees and ceasefire.

A complete withdrawal of all US forces and the coalition would take place within 14 months, said a joint statement. The withdrawal depends on the security guarantees of the Taliban.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)