Over 900 Taliban freed so far in Afghan prisoner swap

Updated May 08 2020

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The release is part of a prisoner-exchange programme included in the US-Taliban deal agreed on February 29. — AFP/File
The release is part of a prisoner-exchange programme included in the US-Taliban deal agreed on February 29. — AFP/File

KABUL: The Kabul administration has released more than 900 Taliban fighters since the militants signed a landmark deal with the United States to end the war in Afghanistan, an official said on Thursday.

The release is part of a prisoner-exchange programme included in the US-Taliban deal agreed on February 29, which has also seen the Taliban free dozens of Afghan security personnel.

“So far 933 Taliban detainees have been released from Afghan jails,” Javed Faisal, spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Security Council, said. In return the Taliban have released 132 Kabul administration prisoners, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy to Afghanistan who negotiated the US-Taliban deal, sees the prisoner exchange as an “important step” toward reducing violence in the war-torn country.

The deal stipulated the Afghan government would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, while the insurgents would free 1,000 Afghan security force personnel.

The swap was supposed to have taken place by March 10 but has hit several hurdles, with Kabul claiming the Taliban want 15 of their “top commanders” released.

The insurgents have accused Afghan authorities of needlessly dragging their heels on the exchange, which is supposed to be completed before peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban can start.

Those Kabul has so far released are low-risk Taliban prisoners who have vowed to abstain from fighting, officials said.

The insurgents also insist Kabul should expedite the release of its members given the growing threat of Covid-19 outbreaks in Afghan jails.

The US has stepped up pressure on both sides to speed up the prisoner swap as it pushes ahead with withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan.

Under the US-Taliban agreement, the militants promised not to strike forces from the US-led coalition — but made no such pledges toward Afghan troops.

Officials have instead reported a surge in violence across the country, further stalling efforts to launch talks between the Taliban and the internationally recognised government.

In a bid to garner support for the deal and pressure the Taliban to end the violence, Khalilzad is this week travelling to Qatar, India and Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2020