Afghan president rejects part of US-Taliban deal which would see release of 5,000 prisoners

‘It is not in the authority of United States to decide,’ Ashraf Ghani says

Abdul Qadir Sediqi
Sunday 01 March 2020 13:57 GMT
Afghanistan president says US and Taliban will sign peace deal

Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, has rejected a Taliban demand for the release of 5,000 prisoners as a condition for talks with the Afghan government and civilians.

His remarks come against the backdrop of the difficulties US negotiators face in shepherding the Afghan government and Taliban towards intra-Afghan negotiations, according to western diplomats.

“The government of Afghanistan has made no commitment to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners,” Mr Ghani said on Sunday, the day after a US-Taliban deal was signed in Qatar to start a political settlement aimed at ending America’s longest war.

The accord said the US and the Taliban were committed to work quickly to release combat and political prisoners as a confidence-building measure, with the coordination and approval of all relevant sides.

It said that up to 5,000 jailed Taliban members would be released in exchange for up to 1,000 Afghan government captives by 10 March.

However, on the issue of the prisoner swap, Mr Ghani said: “It is not in the authority of United States to decide, they are only a facilitator.”

Saturday’s accord was signed by US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, witnessed by Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state.

After the ceremony, Mr Baradar met foreign ministers from Norway, Turkey and Uzbekistan in Doha along with diplomats from Russia, Indonesia and neighbouring nations, the Taliban said, a move that signalled the group’s determination to secure international legitimacy.

“The dignitaries who met Mullah Baradar expressed their commitments towards Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development ... the US-Taliban agreement is historical,” said Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid.

Donald Trump, the US president, rejected criticism around the deal and said he would meet Taliban leaders in the near future.

Mr Ghani’s aides said Mr Trump’s decision to meet the Taliban could pose a challenge to the government at a time when the US troop withdrawal becomes imminent.

Under the agreement, Washington is committed to reducing the number of its troops in Afghanistan to 8,600 from 13,000 within 135 days of signing.

It will also work with allies to proportionally reduce the number of coalition forces in Afghanistan over that period.

A full withdrawal of all US and coalition forces would occur within 14 months, the joint statement said.

The withdrawal, however, depends on security guarantees by the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and imposed many restrictions on women and activities it deemed “un-Islamic”.

After being ousted from power in 2001, the Taliban has led a violent insurgency.

The Afghan war has been a stalemate for more than 18 years, with the Taliban increasingly controlling or contesting more territory, yet unable to capture and hold major urban centres.


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