Ashraf Ghani declined to release all Taliban prisoners in one go

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KABUL: President Ashraf Ghani has declined to release all prisoners 5,000 in one go. Instead, he has ordered the release of an initial 1,500, with the other 3,500 to be set free in parallel with progress in the peace talks. “We never agreed to any conditional release of prisoners,” Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban based in Doha, said. “If someone claims this, it will be against the peace accord that we signed on February 29,” he said.

A February 29 pact between Taliban and the United States has cleared the way for the withdrawal of US-led international forces after more than 18 years of war, but peace has to be negotiated between the militants and the US-backed government.

The Taliban have promised to open talks with the government as part of the accord but say the release of their 5,000 comrades held by the government is also part of the deal, and they won’t talk until all are freed.

The main element of the US withdrawal agreement is a Taliban promise that they will not let Afghanistan used by terrorists to attack the United States and its allies. The pact will let US President Donald Trump fulfill his promise to end the war and bring the entire troops home within 14 months.

The release of the prisoners – including some 1,000 government troops held by the militants – is meant to be a confidence-building measure to pave the way for the so-called intra-Afghan talks. The conflicting positions on the issue between the Taliban and Ghani’s government appears to stem from different wording in documents exchanged between the United States and the Taliban on the one hand and United States and government on the other. “It is properly explained in the peace accord that first 5,000 prisoners would be freed and then the Afghan dialogue would be initiated,” Shaheen said.

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