A mechanism for the release of Taliban prisoners has been reached and a presidential decree will be issued in this regard on Tuesday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Monday.
Ghani’s remarks came after he took an oath as president for another five-year term while, at a distance of a few metres, his electoral rival Abdullah Abdullah also held a parallel oath-taking ceremony.
Ghani said in his speech that the government he was forming would not only include members of his political camp though he would continue with the previous cabinet for two weeks. “Then we will form an inclusive government after consultation,” he said.
On March 2, Ghani had said he would not commit to a clause in the US-Taliban deal that called for a massive prisoner exchange, something the militants have been demanding for years.
Ghani had committed to continue honouring a partial truce that saw violence plummet in Afghanistan, but he had pushed back against the requirement for the Taliban to release up to 1,000 prisoners and for the Afghan government to release around 5,000 captives by March 10, when talks are supposed to start.
Following this, the Taliban had said it will not take part in intra-Afghan talks until about 5,000 of their prisoners are released, presenting a major possible barrier to ending the war.
“If our 5,000 prisoners — 100 or 200 more or less does not matter — do not get released there will be no intra-Afghan talks," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid had told Reuters by phone.
Loud explosions and gunfire were heard during today's inauguration ceremony. Ghani said such explosions and gunfire “cannot deter him from serving the nation”.
Ghani was sworn in for a second term on Monday but Abdullah refused to recognise the inauguration and held his own inauguration ceremony as a rival president.
Both Ghani and former chief executive Abdullah say they are Afghanistan's rightful leader following a disputed election last September, a stand-off that threatens political chaos days after the United States and the Taliban signed a deal on the withdrawal of US-led international forces.
On Sunday, the militant group had said peace talks with the Afghan government this week were unlikely to take place because of the oath-taking ceremonies, and had urged the leaders to instead to focus on an end to the war.
“We don’t think they will make it to getting ready for the intra-Afghan talks on March 10, because of [...] the disagreement between the politicians that is even leading to two swearing-in ceremonies,” the Taliban spokesperson had said.