Hundreds more Taliban prisoners freed on last day of Afghan ceasefire

Updated 27 May 2020

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Taliban prisoners walk in line as they are released from the Bagram prison, situated about 50km from Kabul, on Tuesday.—AFP
Taliban prisoners walk in line as they are released from the Bagram prison, situated about 50km from Kabul, on Tuesday.—AFP

BAGRAM: Afghan authorities freed hundreds more Taliban prisoners on Tuesday, as calls grew for the militants to extend a ceasefire on its third and final day.

The historic pause in fighting — only the second in nearly 19 years of war — has mostly held across Afghanistan, providing a rare respite from the conflict’s grinding violence.

Authorities said they planned to release about 900 Taliban prisoners across Afghanistan on Tuesday, approximately 600 of them from the notorious Bagram jail near Kabul.

The release is part of a pledge by the Afghan government to free up to 2,000 insurgent prisoners in response to the Taliban’s three-day ceasefire offer, which began on Sunday to mark Eidul Fitr.

Abdul Wasi, 27, from Kandahar province, much of which is under Taliban control, said he was a “holy warrior” when he was detained eight years ago.

“I was told ... to do jihad until all foreign troops are driven out of our country,” Wasi, sporting a long beard and wearing a traditional baggy shirt-and-trouser shalwar kameez, told AFP moments after he was freed.

He said he was happy about the US-Taliban deal paving the way for all foreign forces to quit Afghanistan by May next year, and that he wanted a permanent ceasefire.

Extend the ceasefire

The prisoners had signed written pledges not to return to the battlefield, but Qari Mohammadullah, another freed inmate, vowed to continue fighting if foreign forces remain in Afghanistan.

“We don’t want foreigners to stay any longer in our country, they must leave immediately,” Mohammad­ullah said.

Each freed inmate was given the equivalent of about $65 in Afghan currency.

The exact number of prisoners to be released on Tuesday could vary subject to legal procedures, National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal told AFP.

He said authorities hoped the Taliban would extend the ceasefire so delayed peace talks could commence. “If the Taliban are ready to extend the ceasefire, we are ready to continue the ceasefire too,” Faisal told a news conference.

A senior Taliban member told AFP the group planned to release about 200 Afghan security force members, without specifying when.

The ceasefire has raised hopes of an extended truce that could pave the way for long-awaited peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government.

“Extend the ceasefire. Save lives,” Shaharzad Akbar, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said on Twitter.

“End the violence so that we can all focus on making services available to the most vulnerable across the country, on expanding access to human rights, so that we have space to breathe.”

Another senior Taliban source told AFP the group could extend the ceasefire by seven days if the government speeds up the release of prisoners.

But insurgent spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said he had no information about an extension.

The US-Taliban deal stipulates the Afghan government would release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and the militants would free about 1,000 national security personnel.

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2020