Taliban militants will not take part in intra-Afghan talks until about 5,000 of their prisoners are released, a spokesman said on Monday, presenting a major possible barrier to ending the war.
Under an accord between the United States and the Taliban signed on Saturday, the two sides are committed to working towards the release of combat and political prisoners as a confidence-building measure.
The agreement calls for up to 5,000 jailed Taliban prisoners to be released in exchange for up to 1,000 Afghan government captives by March 10. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, not involved in the talks, has since rejected that demand.
“We are fully ready for the intra-Afghan talks, but we are waiting for the release of our 5,000 prisoners,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters by phone.
“If our 5,000 prisoners — 100 or 200 more or less does not matter — do not get released there will be no intra-Afghan talks.” The US has said it hopes negotiations towards a permanent political settlement and ceasefire can start in coming days, but Western diplomats and analysts see stark challenges ahead. Ghani said on Sunday that US President Donald Trump had not asked for the release of the prisoners and that the issue of prisoner releases should be discussed as part of a comprehensive peace deal.
Zabihullah said the majority of prisoners on the list of 5,000 had been captured by American forces and were held in Afghan government prisons and that they had prioritised sick and older prisoners. Zabihullah said that an agreement of a reduction in violence in the seven days leading up to Saturday’s pact in Doha had formally ended. “As we are receiving reports that people are enjoying the reduction in violence, we don’t want to spoil their happiness, but it does not mean that we will not take our normal military activities back to the level that we were before,” he said.
“It could be any time, it could be after an hour, tonight, tomorrow or the day after.” Meanwhile, AFP reports that a couple of days after the United States and the Taliban signed a historic peace deal in Doha, the latter announced on Monday that its partial truce with the Afghan security forces had ended and said that attacks on the ‘Kabul administration forces’ will resume.
A deadly blast shattered a period of relative calm in Afghanistan on Monday, as the Taliban told fighters to resume operations against Afghan security forces.
The blast occurred at around the same time the Taliban ordered fighters to start up attacks against Afghan army and police forces, bringing to an apparent end the “reduction in violence” period that had seen a dramatic drop in bloodshed.
“As per the (US-Taliban) agreement, our mujahideen will not attack foreign forces but our operations will continue against the Kabul administration forces.” The Taliban´s military commission circulated an order telling fighters to resume operations, according to a document provided to AFP by an insurgent source.
Fawad Aman, deputy spokesman for the defence ministry, said Monday the government was “checking to see if (the truce) had ended”. “We have not had any reports of any big attacks in the country yet,” he said before the blast at the football match.–Agencies