Afghanistan to release 2,000 Taliban prisoners as ‘goodwill gesture’

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has announced plans to release more Taliban prisoners in response to the militant group’s three-day Eid ceasefire. Kabul’s move could finally pave the way for intra-Afghan talks.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday announced plans to accelerate the release of up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners a day after the insurgent group announced a three-day ceasefire to mark Eid festivities.

There were no reports of fighting between the militants and government forces at the end of the first day of truce.

Ghani, in his Eid message, said he was releasing Taliban prisoners as a “goodwill gesture.” The government “is taking further steps to ensure (the) success of the peace process,” the president’s spokesperson said.

The government urged the Taliban to release all Afghan security force personnel as soon as possible.

The Taliban dubbed the announcement “a good step” but said the Doha deal with the United States stipulated the “release of 5,000 prisoners.”

“This process should be completed in order to remove hurdles in the way of commencement of intra-Afghan negotiations and to pave the way for further progress which is to follow,” the group’s spokesperson said.

Kabul ready for peace talks

Under the US-Taliban peace deal signed in Doha on February 29, the militant group agreed to release 1,000 members of the Afghan security forces in exchange for 5,000 Taliban fighters that are in custody of the Afghan government.

New violence in Afghanistan threatens peace process

Ghani’s government initially released up to 1,000 Taliban prisoners but halted the process in early May after Taliban intensified their attacks in the country.

Analysts say the Eid ceasefire has set the stage for peace negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban.

Ghani said that a government delegation is “ready to immediately start the peace talks” with the Taliban.

‘Tremendous opportunity’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hailed the Eid ceasefire in a statement on Sunday. “This presents a tremendous opportunity for Afghans to overcome other obstacles and move urgently to Intra Afghan negotiations that end the war,” he said.

US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated Washington’s deal with the Taliban, also welcomed the holiday truce.

“We welcome the Taliban’s decision to observe a ceasefire during Eid, as well as the Afghan government announcement reciprocating and announcing its own ceasefire,” Khalilzad tweeted.

“This development offers the opportunity to accelerate the peace process,” he added. Khalilzad spoke of “a momentous opportunity that should not be missed.”

Source: agencies report.

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