The Taliban denied news reports Thursday that they have agreed to an alternative list of prisoners to break a deadlock over prisoner exchange which is holding back the start of negotiations to reach a political settlement.
"This is not true. The prisoner commission has told me no such decision has been taken so far. . . . I think these are also delaying tactics. So far, we have not given an alternative list," Suhail Shaheen, a Doha based Taliban spokesman, told VOA.
Earlier in the day, an Afghan government source had told multiple news outlets, including the VOA, that the deadlock over prisoners was over and that the Taliban had handed over an alternative list of 592 prisoners who would be released.
Delay in the release of 5000 Taliban prisoners is holding back the start of what are being termed intra-Afghan negotiations, with Taliban on one side and the government and other Afghan stake holders on the other. These are supposed to lead to a political settlement that ends decades of war in the country.
The Taliban have categorically said they would not start until their entire list of prisoners is out of Afghan prisons.
On Monday, the Afghan government announced that 600 of the prisoners could not be released due to their criminal background and participation in activities like armed robberies, murder, and drug smuggling.
Sediq Sediqi, the spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, said these particular prisoners were arrested due to their involvement in various criminal activities and not due to their affiliation with Taliban.
Shaheen denied that saying the government has “not provided any proof of these claims.”
The number, up to 5000 prisoners, was agreed to in a ground-breaking deal in February between the Taliban and the United States which led to the Taliban halting all attacks on foreign troops.
That deal specified that the Taliban prisoners would be released in exchange for up to 1000 Afghan security forces personnel in Taliban custody.
The Afghan government, which was not party to the February deal, was hesitant to acquiesce to the biggest Taliban demand before its own negotiations with the militant group had even started.
It wanted the militants to announce a nationwide cease-fire in return for what it considered was a big concession. The Taliban refused, saying their deal with the Americans stipulates that the cease-fire would be discussed during the intra-Afghan negotiations.
However, the group has publicly pledged that it would sit down for the start of the negotiations as soon as the prisoner release is complete.
The group has faced severe criticism for continuing attacks on Afghan forces that inevitably kill civilians as well.
Meanwhile, President Ashraf Ghani hosted the last of three video conferences on the peace process with the representatives of 20 donor countries, the European Union, the United Nations, and NATO Thursday afternoon.
Gran Hewad, a spokesman for Afghan Foreign Ministry told journalists that the prisoner release, peace talks, reduction in violence, and permanent cease-fire were discussed with the aim of building a consensus.
Two conferences were held this week on Monday and Tuesday with representatives of the neighboring and regional countries, and other stake holders.