Taliban team arrives in Afghan capital to begin prisoner exchange process
A Taliban delegation is in Afghanistan’s capital to start a prisoner exchange process with the government meant to pave the way for intra-Afghan peace talks, which are envisaged in an agreement reached in February between the militant group and the United States.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said a three-member “technical team” had arrived in Kabul on Tuesday to “help the process of prisoners’ release by identification of the prisoners, (and) their transportation.”
The prisoner swap — which is pivotal to kick-starting peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban — calls for the exchange of 6,000 prisoners held by the two warring sides.
The peace negotiations — known as the intra-Afghan dialog — will be aimed at restoring peace and stability to Afghanistan and ending Washington’s 18-year invasion of the Asian state.
The prisoners exchange had been a sticking point between the Afghan government and the Taliban amid their differences over the process and its timetable.
“They (Taliban delegates) are here now and we will begin our discussion,” a senior Afghan government official was quoted by Reuters as saying. “The prisoner release might go ahead in a few days if everything goes as planned.”
The Taliban militants had been refusing to recognize the Afghan government until they reached a deal with the United States — in the absence of representatives from Kabul — in Doha, Qatar, on February 29.
Under the deal, the Taliban agreed to sever ties with al-Qaeda and other terror groups and sit down for peace talks with the Afghan government. In return, Washington will start a phased withdrawal of troops.
The Afghan government was a party neither to the negotiations nor to the deal, but it has been acting in accordance with its terms, including by agreeing to free Taliban prisoners.
The developments come amid a power struggle between incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and his main rival in Afghanistan’s 2019 presidential election, Abdullah Abdullah, who are at loggerheads over the results of the vote won by Ghani.
The prisoner swap process, however, was facilitated after Abdullah agreed to endorse the negotiating team appointed by the government despite the election row.