Delay in release of Taliban prisoners

Pakistan has done the right thing in attending Ashraf Ghani’s ceremony. It should also consider breaking away from the Taliban for good

Though an agreement has been signed between the Taliban and the United States, one of its most important provisions, Taliban prisoners’ release, has not materialised. Earlier, President Ashraf Ghani had shown some flexibility by agreeing to release the Taliban prisoners by March 15.

President Ghani is controversial because his victory in the last presidential election has been disputed. The 70-year old Afghan president belongs to Ahmedzai tribe and possesses a doctoral degree in anthropology. Previously, he has served as the finance minister of Afghanistan and as vice-chancellor of Kabul University.

He was finance minister from 2002 to 2004 during the tenure of the former president, Hamid Karzai. It is noteworthy that Hamid Karzai is eight years younger than Ashraf Ghani. The American occupation forces had picked Karzai as the interim president of Afghanistan in 2001. In 2004, he was confirmed as president and retained that position till 2014.

When Hamid Karzai first became president he was just 45 years old. When Ashraf Ghani took presidential oath in 2014 by comparison he was already 65. He had contested presidential elections against Karzai in 2009 but was placed fourth. Dr Abdullah Abdullah was the runner-up.

President Ghani is also controversial because neither the Taliban nor erstwhile colleague Dr Abdullah recognise him as a legitimate president of the country. Dr Abdullah, now 60, has been trying for 10 years to become president of Afghanistan.

As opposed to Karzai and Ghani who are both Pashtun, Dr Abdullah is a half-Pashtun as his mother was a Tajik. He was foreign minister of Afghanistan from 2001 to 2005. Earlier, he was one of the associates of Ahmed Shah Masud.

In the 2014 election he had polled 45 percent of the votes as opposed to Ashraf Ghani who had secured just 35 per cent. Since no candidate had the required 50 per cent votes a second round vote was taken and Ashraf Ghani was declared elected. The US had brokered a deal that made Ghani president and Abdullah the chief executive.

Following the polling in 2019, both declared themselves president. In the meantime the US negotiated a deal with the Taliban and promised to release the Taliban prisoners. However, until March 20, no prisoners had been released.

The National Security Council of Afghanistan has announced that it has been working on the modalities for the release. According to a notification by President Ghani, 100 prisoners are to be released everyday once a rigorous procedure to ascertain their ages and health status has been completed.

The elderly and the sick prisoners are to be released first. According to the spokesman of the Afghan National Security Council, Javed Faisal, the pros and cons of their release are being be considered. The released prisoners will have to promise that they would not return to the battlefield. Their biometric details would be documented so that they can be easily identified and traced. Around 1,500 prisoners are likely to be released early on account of good conduct during their detention.

According to the Taliban spokesman, Sohail Shaheen, the 1,500 prisoners are criminals arrested for various crimes and not related to the Taliban.

The Taliban have demanded that the lists of prisoner to be released be endorsed by the Taliban. According to the Taliban-US agreement, the release of the prisoners, negotiations with the Afghan government and the evacuation of the US troops would all be completed in 14 months. The Taliban have promised to prevent Al-Qaeda and Daesh from launching militant activities in Afghanistan.

It is not clear how Al Qaeda, Daesh and the Taliban would tackle this issue. They might decide to work together to topple the Kabul government if it fails to reach an agreement with the Taliban.

On the other hand, the US has announced that it has already started evacuating its soldiers from Afghanistan.

The people of Afghanistan had heaved a sigh of relief after the agreement was signed, but now the enthusiasm is turning into dismay. Talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban should have started by March 10, but till the third week of March there was no such development.

The people of Afghanistan had heaved a sigh of relief after the agreement was signed, but now the enthusiasm is turning into dismay. Talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban should have started by March 10, but till the third week of March there was no such development.

The US envoy, Zalmy Khalilzad, has been on Twitter stressing the need for a dialogue between the two sides. A future setup for the government in Afghanistan is yet to be determined. The Taliban do not recognize the Kabul government and have continued their attacks against it.

It took more than 18 months for the Taliban and the US to reach an agreement. The US was unable to persuade the Taliban to allow the Kabul government to join the negotiations. The Kabul government is insisting that it is still unaware of the details of the agreement.

Even when a six-member delegation from Kabul arrived in Doha, Qatar, the Taliban did not talk to them. According to reports, some high military officials and the new vice-president of Afghanistan, Amrullah Saleh, are opposed to the agreement and the proposed release of prisoners.

They consider it a betrayal of Afghan people and have said that the released prisoners would further strengthen the Taliban ranks and try to occupy Kabul by dislodging the government.

Afghanistan has also become perhaps the only country in the world where people have took presidential oaths and declared themselves lawfully elected head of state. According to the Afghan election commission announcement, Ashraf Ghani is the elected president. His oath-taking ceremony was attended by ambassadors of many countries.

Representatives from the EU and NATO were also there. Pakistan has done the right thing in attending Ashraf Ghani’s ceremony. It should also consider breaking away from the Taliban for good. It should not advocate the Taliban case and should start working with the government led by Ashraf Ghanii.


The writer can be reached at [email protected]

Delay in release of Taliban prisoners