Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Vows To Release 2000 Taliban Prisoners

Foreign Affairs

New Delhi: In what he calls a goodwill gesture, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani has announced that Kabul will release up to 2,000 Talibani prisoners in acknowledgement of Taliban’s calling for a three-day ceasefire on the occasion of Eid.

The decision to free the captives was a “goodwill gesture” and was taken “to ensure the success of the peace process”, Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi tweeted. Afghan President Ghani had earlier stated that he would speed up the process of freeing Taliban insurgents.

Before May 24 announcement, the Ashraf Ghani government had already released about 1,000 Talibanese prisoners while the Taliban freed about 300 Afghan security forces. Ghani also said a government delegation was “ready to immediately start the peace talks” with the Taliban insurgents.

The Taliban offering of a cease-fire comes just days after leader Haibatullah Akhundzada urged the Trump administration “not to waste” the occasion offered by the pact with the US that set the stage for the removal of foreign troops from the Islamic republic.

US Special Representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated the deal tweeted that the ceasefire was “a momentous opportunity that should not be missed” while vowing that the Trump administration would “do its part to help”.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also pushed the Taliban and Ashraf Ghani government to seize the opportunity to commence peace talks, with the release of prisoners as the first step. But he said in a statement that he expected “the Taliban to stick to their pledge not to allow released prisoners to return to the battleground”.

He also urged the two sides to avoid escalating violence after Eid.

Earlier, on February 29, a peace treaty between the US and the Taliban was signed in Doha, Qatar. As a confidence-building measure, the Taliban agreed to release 1,000 prisoners, while the Afghan government agreed to free 5,000 Taliban insurgents and supporters.