March 2, 2020
Taliban will not take part in intra-Afghan talks unless about 5,000 of its prisoners are released, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says, against the backdrop of a recently signed tentative peace agreement between the United States and the militant group.
The Taliban spokesman said on Monday that the majority of the prisoners have been captured by US forces and are held in Afghan government’s prisons.
“We are fully ready for the intra-Afghan talks, but we are waiting for the release of our 5,000 prisoners,” the Taliban spokesman said, adding, “If our 5,000 prisoners – 100 or 200 more or less does not matter – do not get released, there will be no intra-Afghan talks.”
On Saturday, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement aimed at paving the way for a complete withdrawal of US forces, effectively ending what many have described as America’s “longest war” in history.
The Afghan government did not take part in the negotiations which led to the deal.
The agreement calls for up to 5,000 jailed Taliban prisoners to be released in exchange for up to 1,000 Afghan government captives by March 10.
The administration of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has since rejected that demand. Ghani said on Sunday that US President Donald Trump had not asked for the release of the prisoners and that the issue should be discussed as part of a comprehensive peace deal.
Washington says it hopes negotiations toward a permanent political settlement and ceasefire could start in the coming days. Some Western diplomats and analysts, however, see stark challenges ahead.
Taliban says will resume operations against Afghan forces
Elsewhere in his remarks, the Taliban spokesman said the seven-day period of reduction in violence, which led up to the Saturday pact in Doha had formally ended.
“As we are receiving reports that people are enjoying the reduction in violence, we don’t want to spoil their happiness, but it does not mean that we will not take our normal military activities back to the level that we were before,” he said, adding, “The reduction in violence… has ended now and our operations will continue as normal… It could be any time, it could be after an hour, tonight, tomorrow or the day after.”
He said the Taliban militants are not going to halt attacks targeting Afghan government forces but foreign soldiers will be spared.
Fawad Aman, deputy spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, said the government was “checking to see if” the ceasefire had ended. “We have not had any reports of any big attacks in the country yet.”
The Saturday signing came after a week-long partial truce that had mostly held across Afghanistan. The Taliban had earlier ordered all its members to “refrain from attacks.”
Some believe it is the Afghan government and the Taliban, rather than the US and the militant group, who should ponder important questions on the future of Afghanistan in their negotiations.
President Donald Trump of the United States has long expressed eagerness to bring US soldiers back home and to end the war as he seeks re-election in 2020.
About 2,400 US soldiers have been killed in the war. Over 100,000 Afghans have also been killed or injured since 2009, when the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began documenting casualties.
The Taliban now control or hold influence over more Afghan territory than at any point since 2001.
The militants have long demanded the withdrawal of foreign troops, calling them an “occupation” force, and blaming them for the almost two decades of war.