Afghan president to free up to 2,000 Taliban inmates as ‘goodwill gesture’
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has initiated a process to release up to 2,000 imprisoned Taliban militants as a “goodwill gesture” in response to a three-day ceasefire offered by the the militant group.
A peace deal inked between the United States and the Taliban on February 28 stipulated that the Taliban stop their attacks on international forces in return for the US military’s phased withdrawal from war-wracked Afghanistan and also a prisoner exchange between the group and the government in Kabul, which was excluded from the talks.
The Afghan government, which is not a signatory to the deal, is required to release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners. The militants, for their part, are obliged to free 1,000 government captives in return.
Kabul has so far released some 1,000 Taliban prisoners while the group has freed around 300 Afghan security force personnel.
“President Ghani today initiated a process to release up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners as a goodwill gesture in response to the Taliban’s announcement of a ceasefire during Eid [al-Fitr]. The AFG Gov is extending the offer of peace and is taking further steps to ensure success of the peace process,” Ghani's spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, said on Twitter on Sunday.
In his televised statement on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, Ghani announced earlier in the day that the release of the Taliban prisoners would be expedited and that Kabul called on the militant group to expedite the release of the government security and defense captives.
He also wished a happy Eid al-Fitr to all Afghans and said the peace process required cooperation between the two sides and work to remove its hurdles.
“I once again welcome the ceasefire announced by the Taliban, I also instructed the Afghan Security Forces to observe ceasefire, too,” the Afghan president further said, stressing that Kabul’s negotiating team was ready to commence intra-Afghan talks as soon as possible.
The prisoner swap is regarded as a confidence-building move ahead of long-awaited peace talks between Kabul and the militant group, which rejected a government offer of truce for the duration of Ramadan and continued its attacks.
The Afghan government negotiators are henceforth headed by Ghani’s former bitter rival, Abdullah Abduallh, after the two inked a power sharing agreement last week that put an end to a months-long political crisis in the war-ravaged country.
Nearly 14,000 US troops and 17,000 troops from NATO allies and partner countries remain stationed in Afghanistan years after the invasion of the country that toppled a Taliban regime in 2001.