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March 12, 2020

Afghan Taliban say no to conditional release of prisoners

Top Story

March 12, 2020

PESHAWAR: The Afghan Taliban on Wednesday rejected what they termed “conditional and phased-wise” release of Taliban prisoners from Afghan jails and said the intra-Afghan dialogue won’t be initiated till all their 5,000 men were freed.

Taliban spokesman in Doha, Suhail Shaheen, told The News that they had never agreed to the conditional release of the 5,000 prisoners. “This is not true. We never made any such commitment. It is properly elaborated in the peace accord reached with the US in Doha on February 29 that some confidence building measures would be taken prior to initiation of the intra Afghan dialogue,” he explained.

Suhail Shaheen argued that it is mentioned in the peace agreement that the Afghan government would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners while in return the Taliban would free 1,000 prisoners of the Afghan government. “If someone is deviating from this commitment, it would be considered as violation of the peace accord,” argued the Taliban spokesman, who is also member of their Qatar-based Political Commission.

He said Taliban had categorically stated that they would not accept conditional and phased-wise release of their prisoners. “We would not join the intra Afghan dialogue till all the 5,000 prisoners we demanded were freed,” said Suhail Shaheen.

Also, he said they had provided lists of their 5,000 prisoners with relevant information, including names, place of origin, etc to the US negotiation team and this was later shared with the Afghan government.

Suhail Shaheen said theywould ensure by sending their team of elders to ascertain if the released prisoners were the same whose names they had provided to the US officials. “After the prisoners are freed, we would like to determine through physical verification that they are the same people whose release we had demanded,” said the Taliban spokesman.

Under the peace accord signed in Doha, US and Taliban announced that intra-Afghan dialogue would be initiated from March 10. It could not happen as Taliban and the Afghan government failed to develop a mechanism for prisoners’ swap.

Afghan President Dr Ashraf Ghani had earlier stated that his government had not committed the release of Taliban prisoners. He had to change his rigid stance after US representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad reached Kabul and held meetings with Ashraf Ghani and other key officials.

President Ghani on Tuesday night issued release orders of the Taliban prisoners. However, he refused to free all the 5,000 prisoners in one go and instead issued an executive order for the release of 1,500 Taliban prisoners.

It seemed he had made conditional the release of remaining 3,500 prisoners with the intra-Afghan dialogue and the progress made there. It angered the Afghan Taliban and they said they approached Zalmay Khalilzad and his team to resolve the prisoners’ swap issue with the Afghan government.

Also, Taliban refused to accept another condition reportedly made by the Afghan government that the Taliban prisoners would give an undertaking that would not return to the battlefield after their release.

“There is no way we can accept this latest demand of the Afghan government. Our fighters are mujahideen and they would always fight for freedom of their country and Islamic Sharia in Afghanistan,” said a senior Taliban leader in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province.

He said they had earlier sent vehicles to pick up their prisoners after their likely release from Bagram prison on Wednesday. He said Khalilzad had informed them that the first batch would be freed on Wednesday which didn’t happen. Now, he said, the first batch of their prisoners is expected to be freed on Saturday in case the Afghan government fulfilled its commitment with the US.