Kabul: The Taliban said that it was pulling out of prisoner swap talks with the Afghan government over the delay in the release of insurgent leaders that would have kick-started broader peace negotiations under an agreement with the US.
“Unfortunately, their (prisoners’) release has been delayed under one pretext or another till now. Therefore, our technical team will not participate in fruitless meetings with relevant sides,” Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesperson in Qatar, tweeted.
A Taliban delegation had arrived in Kabul last week for a prisoner swap with the government as part of the peace deal between the insurgent group and the US signed on February 29 in the Qatari capital of Doha, reports Efe news.
This was the first official delegation of the Taliban in the Afghan capital in 19 years since the group was ousted from power in 2001 by the US.
The Taliban team held several meetings with Afghan government officials to discuss technicalities for the release of some 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for 1,000 Afghan security forces held by the insurgent group.
Shaheen said the release of prisoners should have already started “as per the agreement” with the US.
But the Afghan government blamed the Taliban for the delay in the process that was expected to pave the way for intra-Afghan talks on a comprehensive ceasefire and a political solution to the 19-year long war in the country.
“We are ready to begin the first phase to release 400 (Taliban) prisoners, but it is the Taliban who don’t want (the process to move on),” said Matin Bek, a senior government official who heads the Independent Directorate of Local Governance agency.
Bek made the remarks after President Ashraf Ghani chaired the National Security Council meeting to discuss the prisoners’ release process.
Bek, who was part of the meeting, said the Taliban had been insisting on the release of 15 top militant commanders who have been involved in big attacks and whose “hands are stained with the blood of our nation”.
“The discussion is clear and that is the release of 5,000 prisoners. We have shown our flexibility, we cannot release the murderers of the Afghan people from our prisons to reinforce the frontline of the (Taliban) war. They should offer guarantees, prisoners will be released gradually. So, it rebuilds the trust and decreases the level of violence,” he said.
He said the Afghan government “first wanted to release those prisoners who pose less threat to security”.