Ask US for explanation on prisoner swap clause in Taliban deal, FM Qureshi to Ghani

Updated 03 Mar 2020

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Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said in a statement on Tuesday that "it is the responsibility of the Afghan leadership to create a favourable environment to take the talks forward." — AP/File
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said in a statement on Tuesday that "it is the responsibility of the Afghan leadership to create a favourable environment to take the talks forward." — AP/File

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Tuesday asked Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to refer to the United States for an "explanation" on the prisoner swap clause in the recently signed truce deal between the US and the militant Taliban group as he urged all stakeholders to show "flexibility" moving forward to intra-Afghan talks in the deal's aftermath.

In a statement released by the Foreign Office, Qureshi warned things could not move forward if "stubbornness" was exhibited. "This is a logical step that should be taken," he said, alluding to the exchange of prisoners.

"Exchange of prisoners is a two-way process and has happened in the past. When we move from war towards peace, it needs to be done to show a positive intent," the foreign minister said.

His remarks come a day after it appeared that the recently signed truce deal between the US and the militant Taliban group was not holding after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in a surprise move said "there is no commitment to releasing 5,000 [Taliban] prisoners".

Ghani's statement soured hopes of peace, with the militant Taliban group responding by ruling out talks unless prisoners were released.

Yesterday, the Taliban resumed attacks against the Kabul administration according to a statement by the group's spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid.

Read: Truce in tatters as Taliban resume attacks

Qureshi in his statement today said that the clause for the exchange of prisoners was part of the US-Taliban deal and that Ashraf Ghani should "ask America for an explanation" on it.

He added that as far as he was aware, US Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad "had been apprising the Afghan leadership regarding negotiations".

On Saturday, the United States signed a historic deal with the Taliban in Doha that was hailed as a harbinger of peace by Pakistan and a possible way to end the 18-year-old war in Afghanistan. One of the clauses in the deal is for the swap of prisoners — the Afghan government will release 5,000 prisoners and the Taliban will release 1,000 by March 10, the clause reads.

Foreign Minister Qureshi said Afghanistan's leadership had to take the responsibility to create a "favourable environment" to take intra-Afghan talks forward after the historic deal.

"Pakistan can create a favourable environment, it cannot take [Afghanistan's] decisions.

"Attitudes will have to be corrected along with deals ... those who wanted to create obstacles were present before as well; it is a testament to the excellence of the [Afghan] political leadership that they make them unsuccessful."

Qureshi termed the Doha peace deal an "important development" and urged all stakeholders not to "waste this opportunity".

"What happened in Doha was the first step, the next step is intra-Afghan talks ... president Ghani should move forward keeping his country's interests foremost and the Taliban should also display generosity."

The foreign minister said war was not an option as it was not an "easy process".

Qureshi said both parties will have to "show flexibility" for each other, cautioning that if the truce did not hold, it would be "Afghanistan's loss".

Qureshi termed the ongoing situation a "test for the Afghan leadership", adding that it remained to be seen whether "they move forward or continue to showcase the same kind of narrow thinking as before".

He said Pakistan wanted things to be settled with "sincerity" and wished for peace and stability in Afghanistan.

The foreign minister reminded all stakeholders that "Pakistan has played the role it had to" and it was commended by the world community.