By: The Kabul Times
President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani signed an order on Tuesday night to pardon and release Taliban prisoners in coming days to pave the way for direct talks with the insurgent group aimed at ending the 18-year-long war in Afghanistan.
The two-page decree – which was signed by President Ghani and was made public by the presidential press office on Wednesday said that all released Taliban prisoners will have to provide “a written guarantee to not return to the battlefield.”
The decree lays out details about how the prisoners will be released in a systematic manner, a process that it says will begin in four days. “The process of releasing 1,500 Taliban prisoners will be completed within 15 days, with 100 prisoners walking out of Afghan jails every day,” according to the decree.
Talks between the Taliban and Afghan government to end the war will run parallel with the release, the decree said. If the talks make progress, the government said it will release a further 500 Taliban prisoners every two weeks until a total of 5,000 Taliban prisoners have been freed.
The decree said that the Taliban will have to stick to its commitment to a reduction in violence during this period and beyond.
But Taliban said on Wednesday that the plan from the Afghan president to stagger the release of Taliban prisoners violated an accord they struck with the United States and they would not talk with the Afghan government until all 5,000 prisoners were freed.
Afghan government has declined to release all 5,000 in one phase. Instead, it 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.
The main element of the U.S. withdrawal agreement is a Taliban promise that they will not let Afghanistan be used by terrorists to attack the United States and its allies. The pact will let U.S. President Donald Trump fulfill his promise to end the war and bring all of the troops home within 14 months.
Despite the accord between the United States and the Taliban, fighting has continued in various parts of the country. Taliban leaders have told Reuters that their leadership council has rejected an Afghan government demand that they issue written guarantees to stop fighting.
The release of the prisoners is part of a confidence-building measure to pave the way for the opening of direct talks between the government and the insurgents, after talks with both sides and the United States individually.
The issue has become one of the biggest sticking points in any progress towards peace, complicated by differing wording of documents between the United States and the Taliban, and the United States and the Afghan government.
“I urge the two sides to sit down immediately for talks on this issue in Doha, Qatar to work out the details,” Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. special envoy who was the key negotiator in the talks, said in a tweet the other day.