The Afghan government has begun the release of the last portion of Taliban detainees, following the Taliban's release of Afghan commandos.
These Taliban were singled-out for having allegedly committed serious crimes.
Amrullah Saleh, the Afghan first vice president, on Wednesday said that currently no commando is in the Taliban’s custody, stating that the Taliban’s prisoners will be released in several phases.
The remarks came hours after sources close to the peace process said that the Afghan government had released 200 out of 320 prisoners since Monday.
The source stated that the Afghan government will soon finalize the release of another 120 Taliban members.
“May God help us to establish a Sharia (Islamic) system in Afghanistan,” said Sher Mohammad, a newly released member of the Taliban in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan.
“We want this nation to be united and move forward towards prosperity,” said Abdul Rashid, a released member of the Taliban in Kandahar.
“Our commandos were handed over in Aino Meena (a township in Kandahar). We went there and checked their identity to confirm that no other commando remains in the Taliban’s custody. Later we decided to release the remaining prisoners slowly,” said Saleh.
A government source said that up to 200 Taliban prisoners have been released in the past two days.
137 Taliban detainees held by the government were released from a prison in Kandahar and from Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul, said the source.
“I want stability in Afghanistan so that we can live in an environment of peace and security,” said Yar Mohammad, a former Taliban prisoner.
The Taliban have pledged that those released will not return to the battlefield.
“Their elders have pledged that these prisoners will not return to the battlefields after their release,” said Agha Lalai Dastgiri, the deputy governor of Kandahar province.
Apparently, the Afghan government is still in talks with the Australian and French authorities about the release of six high profile Taliban prisoners.
Sources in the government said that progress has been made in the talks between the Afghan government and French officials; however, Australia still has reservations about the release of six Taliban prisoners.
“These six prisoners are on the blacklist of three countries, they are involved in the deliberate killing of their citizens. Their families have launched a campaign----if these prisoners are released, there is a possibility that our relations will decline---because of this, the release was suspended,” said Amrullah Saleh, the Afghan first vice president.
With the release of another 120 Taliban prisoners, the total numbers mentioned in the Doha agreement--5,000 Taliban prisoners released by the government for 1,000 government prisoners released by the Taliban--will be completed.
The Imminent Peace Talks:
The Taliban committed to sit with the Afghan factions once their prisoners were released completely.
Fraidoon Khwazoon, the spokesperson for the High Council for National Reconciliation, on Monday said that all obstacles ahead of the intra-Afghan talks had been removed and soon talks will begin.
“All obstacles ahead of the intra-Afghan talks have been removed. The prisoner swap process will end soon and intra-Afghan talks will begin,” Khwazoon tweeted.
Also, at the international level, the US National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien on Tuesday in a phone call with President Ashraf Ghani called for a swift start to the intra-Afghan talks.
“NSA O’Brien had a great phone call with President Ashraf Ghani today to discuss the need for intra-Afghan talks to start without delay. Reiterated US support for a sovereign, democratic, and unified Afghanistan that never again serves as a source of international terrorism,” the NSA tweeted on Monday.
“The US stands with the Afghan security forces who have made tremendous sacrifices for the Afghan people,” said O’Brien.
The talks between the Afghan factions and the Taliban were expected to begin 10 days after the Feb. 29 deal between the US and the Taliban, but were stalled due to delays in the prisoner exchange.
Meanwhile, in Kabul, President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, met with the negotiation team, the Presidential Palace announced.
President Ghani assured the members that as a national team they have the strong support of the government and the people of Afghanistan and that Afghans see strength in the team's diversity, unity and coordination.