The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has arrived in Kabul where he is meeting with Afghan leaders ahead of the Eid-al-Adha ceasefire, which starts on Friday, said government officials.
In his meeting with President Ghani, the two discussed an extension of the ceasefire and a reduction in violence, the start of direct talks, and also the prisoner exchange, the Presidential Palace said in a statement.
Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, and former president Hamid Karzai were also present in Khalilzad's meeting with Ghani.
Khalilzad also met with Abdullah where they discussed the completion of the prisoner swap, reduction in violence, intra-Afghan talks and ceasefire, Abdullah's office said in a statement.
Members of the High Council of National Reconciliation have said that Khalilzad’s trip is aimed at holding discussions with the Afghan political leadership about the intra-Afghan talks and the implementation of the US-Taliban peace agreement which was signed in Doha on February 29.
“Laying the groundwork for the start of intra-Afghan talks, sharing the details of his recent trips and completing the agreement established in Doha between the Taliban and the Americans--this is the agenda for his traveling,” said Faraidoon Khawzon, a spokesman for the High Council of National Reconciliation.
Meanwhile, a Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen in a tweet on Wednesday evening said the group will release the remaining prisoners of the Afghan government by Eid "for goodwill" (thus completing the total 1,000).
He said the government "should also complete the process of releasing the pledged 5,000 detainees in accordance with the Doha agreement and the list in order to facilitate the start of intra-Afghan negotiations after Eid."
The Taliban on Tuesday announced a three-day ceasefire during Eid al-Adha, which are expected in the coming weeks.
The group called on its fighters to avoid attacking Afghan forces and to not enter government-controlled areas.
This is the third ceasefire in the country since June 2019 when the group announced a three-day truce in Eid.
The ceasefire has been welcomed in Afghanistan and by the international level.
Khalilzad in series of tweets also welcomed the ceasefire.
“We welcome the Taliban announcement of an Eid ceasefire and the Afghan government's reciprocal announcement,” tweeted Khalilzad.
Khalilzad also commended the sacrifices made by the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces (ANDSF) and said: “We wish the Afghan national security forces continued honor in the service of the Afghan people and thank them for their commitment to Afghanistan. Eid Mubarak.”
Meanwhile, President Ashraf Ghani has again called on the Taliban to stop killing the Afghan security forces.
“Don’t play as tools in the hands of the aliens to kill the Afghans. What is the honor and pride in killing Afghans?” said Ashraf Ghani.
The Afghan government has been persistently asking the Taliban to stop the war and enter into peace talks with the Afghan government.
“While we are fully prepared to give a full-measured response to the enemies of this country, we are committed to honor any effort for a ceasefire,” said Massoud Andarabi, the acting minister of interior.
President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday portrayed a grim picture of the situation in Afghanistan, saying that between February 29 and July 21 up 10,708 members of the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces (ANDSF) have been killed and wounded.
“Between February 29, 2020, and July 21, 2020, ANDSF losses have been 10,708, with 3560 martyred, 6781 wounded and the rest kidnapped, imprisoned or unaccounted for,” said Ghani while speaking at the Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) in Kabul.
Ordinary Afghans have also called for an end to the war.
“We want a permanent ceasefire, we are tired of war,” said Hashmatullah, a resident in Kabul.
“We want a real peace, how long should we see killings and war,” said Rohullah, a resident in Kabul.
Ghani at the State Officials Meeting said that to ensure that the window remains open for peace in the country, the Afghan government has offered proof of its commitment and moral courage by the release of Taliban prisoners.
“To ensure that the window remains open, we have offered proof of our commitment and moral courage by the release of Taliban prisoners, a move without precedent in the annals of peace-building,” he said.
“The release of the Taliban has a link with the Afghan peace process and the Afghan government is committed to take the necessary steps needed for bringing peace,” said Geran Hewad, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
On the controversy over the release of the Taliban’s 5,000 prisoners, Ghani said: “To demonstrate the government’s commitment to peace, the Islamic Republic will soon complete the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners as part of the exchange with ANDSF prisoners. With this action, we look forward to the start of direct negotiations with the Taliban in a week’s time. We call on the Taliban to join us at the negotiating table and to concluding promptly there a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire. Commitment to a ceasefire during the coming Eid will be an indication of things to come.”
Previously, the government had said it will not free 600 Taliban members accused of major crimes.