Tue, 02 Jun 2020

The Afghan government said it would release another 100 Taliban inmates on Thursday, even though the insurgents have walked out of talks over a comprehensive prisoner swap and dismissed Kabul's piecemeal freeing of captives as "unacceptable".

The administration of President Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday released 100 low-risk Taliban prisoners who had vowed never to return to the battlefield, and officials said the same number of insurgents with similar profiles would be set free on Thursday.

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The releases come as Ghani faces an ongoing political crisis, US fury over a floundering peace process and a growing coronavirus epidemic in Afghanistan, where officials fear the disease could run riot through the country's prisons.

Kabul "will release 100 Taliban prisoners today based on their health condition, age and length of remaining sentence as part of our efforts for peace and containment of Covid-19", Javid Faisal, spokesperson for the Office of the National Security Council (NSC), said.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said the step was inadequate.

Withdrawal deal

A small Taliban team came to Kabul last week to meet the government to discuss a comprehensive prisoner swap that was initially supposed to see 5 000 Taliban released in return for 1 000 Afghan security forces.

But they abandoned the "fruitless" meetings on Tuesday and returned to the southern province of Kandahar.

"Our stance has been very clear on prisoners swap," Mujahid said.

"Now, hundreds, hundreds prisoners are released on a daily basis. This is not part of our process and it is unacceptable to us."

When asked why the government was still releasing Taliban inmates even though the prisoner swap appeared to have collapsed, Faisal said: "We need to push the peace process forward."

The United States signed a withdrawal deal with the Taliban in late February that required the Afghan government - which was not a signatory to the accord - to participate in the prisoner exchange. That step was supposed to have led to "intra-Afghan" peace talks starting on 10 March.

No one knows when, or if, they may now start.

In the agreement, the US and other foreign forces will withdraw from Afghanistan in 13 months, and the Taliban must talk to Kabul and stick to several security guarantees.

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