Afghan President signs decree to release 1,500 Taliban fighters

President Ashraf Ghani has ordered the release of 1,500 Taliban prisoners to kick-start direct negotiations with the rebel group in a bid to end the nearly two-decades-long war in Afghanistan. According to a news report, the president has signed a two-page decree on March 10 for the release of the prisoners, provided they give a written assurance to not return to the battlefield.

The order has been passed in “accordance with an accepted framework” to launch negotiations with the Taliban, Afghan government spokesperson Sediq Sediqqi was quoted as saying. Sediqqi said the declaration lays out the details about how the process of releasing the prisoners would begin in the next four days.

The development comes after the Taliban signed a peace deal with the United States last month in Doha, Qatar, as part of President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw the US troops from Afghanistan. The agreement, signed between US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban’s deputy chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, provides for the release of the prisoners, which are mostly lodged in the Bagram Prison near Kabul. The deal paves the way for the full withdrawal of the US and NATO troops from Afghanistan.

Taliban Prisoner List

After the president’s order, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in a tweet that his group has handed over a list of 5,000 prisoners to the US for their release. On the same day, another senior Taliban leader said that vehicles were sent to Bagram to collect the freed fighters. “After our conversation with Zalmay Khalilzad in which he conveyed to us the release of our 5,000 prisoners, we sent vehicles to pick them up,” he told reporters in Doha, the group’s political headquarters.

The Taliban had demanded the release of the prisoners to pave the way for talks with the government. President Ghani had refused it initially but later agreed to the prisoner swap deal to move the peace process forward. The president’s long-standing feud with his rival and former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah has further deepened the political crisis in the country.

Ghani Sworn-in for Second Term

President Ghani was sworn in for a second term on March 10, while Abdullah also held his inauguration ceremony on the same day. The former chief executive has refused to recognize Ghani as president or accept the last month’s election results. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council has approved a US resolution on the US-Taliban deal, a rare endorsement of an agreement with an armed group.

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