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Taliban Announces Prisoner Release

FILE - Afghan Taliban prisoners are released from Bagram Prison in Parwan province, May 26, 2020.

The Taliban announced late Wednesday it will soon release remaining imprisoned Afghan security force members, a day after a similar announcement from Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, indicating that the start of negotiations between the warring factions in Afghanistan may be close.

“The Islamic Emirate due to compassion of the Amirul-Momineen and as a goodwill gesture, will release the remaining prisoners of the Kabul Administration before Eid al-Adha, thus completing the release of 1000 prisoners,” Tweeted Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman based in Doha.

Ghani had indicated Tuesday that intra-Afghan negotiations with the Taliban were imminent.

“With this action, we look forward to the start of direct negotiations with the Taliban in a week’s time,” he said, announcing the decision to release the remaining of the 5,000 total Taliban prisoners.

Both sides also have agreed to a three-day cease-fire during the Muslim holy festival of Eid.

FILE - U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad leaves the Presidential Palace in Kabul, March 9, 2020.
FILE - U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad leaves the Presidential Palace in Kabul, March 9, 2020.

On Wednesday, Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, met senior Afghan officials in Kabul and discussed the latest developments.

“Meeting @US4AfghanPeace accompanied by @USAmbKabul this evening and welcoming the mutual 3-day Eid al-adha truce announcement, we focused on the last phase of prisoner exchanges leading to intra-Afghan talks & a permanent ceasefire, preceded by further reduction in violence,” tweeted Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, charged with leading the negotiations with the Taliban.

Participants, including President Ghani and former President Hamid Karzai, also discussed the possibility of extending the cease-fire beyond Eid, according to the office of the president.

The exchange of prisoners had been holding up the start of intra-Afghan negotiations since March. The Afghan government resisted releasing Taliban prisoners unless the militants reduced the level of violence in the country. The Taliban refused to sit for negotiations unless all of their 5,000 prisoners were released.

Faridom Khawzoon, a spokesman for the council, said the two sides have resolved their issued.

“The problem has almost been resolved and in the coming days this issue will be completely resolve. Five-thousand prisoners of the Taliban will be released, and 1,000 prisoners of Afghans security forces will be released,” he told VOA Thursday.

While several countries are being considered as a possible venue for intra-Afghan negotiations, the spread of the novel coronavirus has complicated logistics.

The negotiations will include a political team of Taliban and a team of Afghans representing various political factions, activists, women, and Afghan civil society.

The first round may be held in Doha, the capital of Qatar, where a Taliban political team has been living for years and where it negotiated for almost a year-and-a-half with Khalilzad and his team.