100 fighters to be set free soon, says Taliban spokesman

Updated 02 Apr 2020

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Afghan officials, militants’ representatives hold face-to-face talks. — AFP/File
Afghan officials, militants’ representatives hold face-to-face talks. — AFP/File

KABUL: The Afghan government will release some Taliban prisoners this week as part of confidence-building measures crucial for the success of the peace deal signed between America and the Taliban to end nearly two decades of war, officials said on Wednesday.

A three-member Taliban team arrived in Kabul on Tuesday to begin a prisoner exchange process and met Afghan officials despite a nationwide lockdown implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo termed Tuesday’s developments as “good news”, a week after he had visited both government leaders in Kabul and Taliban representatives in the Qatari capital Doha, where the Afghan militants have an office, to urge them to move forward with the peace process. A Taliban spokesman said on Wednesday that at least 100 captured Taliban fighters would be freed soon, the first step in the ultimate exchange of 6,000 prisoners held by the Afghan government and the insurgent group.

“One hundred prisoners will be released in first batch, then both sides will assess whether releasing 100 per day is working out well or not,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the militant group.

Discussions were underway on technicalities related to the release and the provision for medical checkup for those being freed, Mujahid said, adding that the lockdown due to coronavirus added to the challenge.

Afghan officials, militants’ representatives hold face-to-face talks

The Taliban were making transport arrangements to ensure that old and sick fighters released from the Afghan jails were received by their families but had no plans to provide financial assistance.

Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the country’s National Security Council (NSC), said in a tweet that both sides were holding “face-to-face discussions” over the prisoner exchanges.

About the talks, the NSC said on Twitter: “The two sides held face-to-face negotiations about the release of Afghan National Defence and Security Force personnel as well as Taliban prisoners.”

It is the first time the militants have been invited to Kabul to directly meet government officials since they were toppled in a US-led invasion of 2001. The two sides had spoken previously in a videoconference to discuss the prisoner issue.

Mujahid said a “technical team” was in Kabul purely to facilitate the prisoner swap, and not for additional negotiations. “The prisoners to be released should be those whose names are on the list... that is why our technical team is there... it is not a negotiation, and there will be no political talks there,” he said.

Despite the talks and the lockdown, violence has not ebbed in the war-torn country.

Eight civilians, including children, were killed in an explosion when their vehicle hit a landmine planted by the Taliban in southern Helmand province on Wednesday, a provincial official said. Neither the Taliban nor any other group immediately claimed responsibility for the blast.

Taliban fighters say security forces are the target of their roadside bombs and landmines, but civilians are frequently hurt or killed.

Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2020