Taliban announces readiness to talk with Kabul following release of prisoners
Afghanistan's Taliban militant group has announced readiness to resume peace talks with the government a week after Kabul released the remaining 400 members of the group.
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In an interview with the BBC on Sunday, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Qatar, welcomed Kabul’s decision earlier in the day to release the 400 inmates, the last batch of 5,000 prisoners to be freed as a condition for starting intra-Afghan negotiations.
Suhail Shaheen said the Taliban will join the peace process a week after the 400 are released, adding that the first round of the face-to-face discussions is expected to be held in the Qatari capital.
He said a six-member delegation in Doha led by Abbas Stanikzai, the former chief negotiator of the Taliban during their talks with the US, will lead the militant group’s delegation.
His remarks come hours after the Loya Jirga, Afghanistan’s grand assembly, approved the release of the 400 Taliban prisoners, whom Kabul was wary of freeing given their background of involvement in deadly attacks and kidnappings.
In a resolution it issued on Sunday to make the announcement, the Loya Jirga also called for an immediate and long-lasting ceasefire, which would pave the way for an end to the war in Afghanistan.
Similarly, President Ashraf Ghani had appealed to the militant group to pledge to a complete ceasefire ahead of talks.
Asked during the interview about the calls in Kabul for a truce, Shaheen said, “The ceasefire is part of the intra-Afghan negotiations agenda that will be discussed there. It has been mentioned in the Doha agreement.”
He had earlier told Reuters that truce “is and will be an important part of the talks, which will be decided during talks (not before).”
According to Afghan government data, 156 of the 400 inmates have been sentenced to death, 105 are accused of murder, 34 are accused of kidnapping that led to murder.
Among them are also 51 drug smugglers, 44 blacklisted by the Afghan government and its allies, and 10 accused of other crimes.
The intra-Afghan peace talks were initially planned to start in March, but the process has repeatedly been delayed amid the spat over the prisoners, while the Taliban have kept up their attacks across the country.
The planned release of the 400 prisoners has raised concerns among civilians and rights groups.
The Loya Jirga has urged the government to seek forgiveness from the families of those killed in attacks carried out by the Taliban prisoners planned to be released,
More than 100,000 Afghan civilians are estimated to have been killed or injured in the past decade, more than 10,000 in 2019 alone.