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Afghan president signs decree to release ‘hardcore’ Taliban prisoners

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Taliban prisoners stop a local Taxi after their release from the Bagram prison, as they arrive in the city of Kabul, May 26, 2020. (File photo by AFP)

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani has signed a decree to release a final batch of ‘hardcore’ Taliban prisoners, raising hopes for long-awaited peace talks to restart.

Late on Monday, the president ordered the release of the 400 prisoners, his office said. 

“It is signed,” a presidential palace source said. 

National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal said, “The Afghan government will start releasing the 400 Taliban prisoners within two days.” 

In Doha, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office welcomed Kabul’s decision to release the last batch of 5,000 prisoners to be freed as a condition for starting intra-Afghan negotiations.

“We are ready to sit for talks within a week from when we see our prisoners released. We are ready,” Suhail Shaheen said.

A government source said, “The original plan is to travel to Doha on Wednesday and the talks will begin on Sunday.”

Loya Jirga, a grand assembly of Afghan elders, approved the release of the 400 Taliban prisoners, whom Kabul was wary of freeing given their background of involvement in deadly attacks and kidnappings.

In a resolution it issued on Sunday to make the announcement, the Loya Jirga also called for an immediate and long-lasting ceasefire, which would pave the way for an end to the war in Afghanistan.

The Taliban had demanded the release of the remaining prisoners as a condition for joining the peace talks.

Both President Ghani and the Taliban had already signaled that protracted peace negotiations could begin once the Eid-al Adha was over.

In February, the Taliban and Washington signed a deal that slated Afghan peace talks to begin in March, but discussions were delayed by disagreements over the terms of a prisoner swap.

The deal, which sets the stage for the withdrawal of all US-led foreign forces from Afghanistan, required Kabul to free some 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for 1,000 Afghan security personnel held by the Taliban. The Taliban said they have already fulfilled their side of the exchange.

Authorities, however, had refused to free hundreds of inmates accused of serious crimes that the militant group had requested for release.

Official data shows that bombings and other assaults by the Taliban have surged 70 percent since the militant group signed the deal with the United States. Last month, Ghani said more than 3,500 Afghan troops and nearly 800 civilians had been killed since the deal was signed in Doha.

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