The Afghan government and the Taliban both see the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations conditional to the release of their prisoners from each other's prisons.
The Presidential Palace reiterated that one of the fundamental conditions to start the talks with the Taliban is that the group first needs to ensure the release of over 20 members of Afghan Special Forces who are in Taliban’s custody.
“The fundamental condition is that the number of soldiers of the security and defense forces who are with the Taliban should be released,” said Dawa Khan Menapal, a deputy spokesman to President Ashraf Ghani.
But, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Haneef Atmar has expressed hope that the talks will start sometime next week and that the prisoners release is no longer a hurdle in way of the negotiations.
“We are much closer to the start of peace negotiations that we have ever been before,” Atmar said in a conversation US Institute of Peace on Thursday. “We are optimistic that next week, we will be making big progress in this respect.”
Meanwhile, Nader Nadery, a member of the negotiating team of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan said that the first topic on the talks with the Taliban will be the announcement of a ceasefire.
“Leave the guns. The war must come to an end. At the same time, all rights, freedom and values that are reflected in the Constitution of Afghanistan should be protected,” said Nadery.
But, the Taliban’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that there will be no talks with the Afghan side unless the government in Kabul ensures the complete release of their prisoners.
“5,000 of them were released, 400 have remained. If they do not trust the Afghan people, of course people will not trust them too,” said Iqbal Safai, MP.
The Controversial Prisoners
In early August, nearly 3,400 Afghan delegates at a three-day Loya Jirga-- the grand council--approved the release of 400 high-value prisoners of the Taliban whose release was an obstacle for the intra-Afghan negotiations.
Two days later, the government released 80 of the prisoners, but said the release of the remaining 320 is conditional on the release of at least 20 Afghan commandos in Taliban custody, according to officials.
Later on, the Afghan government halted the release of the remaining 320 prisoners, citing reservations among some of its western allies including Australia, US and France.
The mentioned countries had apparently opposed the release of at least six Taliban prisoners who were accused of killing of their citizens in Afghanistan.
According to government data, out of the 400 prisoners in question, 156 of them have been sentenced to death, 105 of them are accused of murder, 34 of them are accused of kidnapping that led to murder, 51 of them are accused of drug smuggling, 44 of them are on the blacklist of the Afghan government and its allies, six of them are accused of assorted other crimes, four are accused of unspecified crimes.
The list of 5,000 prisoners was given to the Afghan government by the Taliban to be released ahead of the intra-Afghan negotiations, which are now expected to be held in Doha.