Afghan Prisoner Swap Ends, Peace Talks to Finally Begin

Authorities in Afghanistan said Thursday the last group of about 400 Taliban prisoners has been released, concluding a protracted swap between the two adversaries and finally setting the stage for Afghan rivals to launch peace talks brokered by the United States.
 
An Afghan government spokesman, Javid Faisal, announced the conclusion of the prisoner exchange, noting the fate of a small group of inmates was still to be determined. He explained that some Western countries have opposed the release of the men for their involvement in deadly attacks against foreign citizens.  “Diplomatic efforts are ongoing. We expect direct talks to start promptly,” Faisal said.
 
Meanwhile, officials in Kabul said a national team of peace negotiators, including politicians, civil society activists, women and government officials, will fly to Doha, Qatar, to begin the talks with the Taliban.
 
The insurgent group’s negotiating team is based in the capital city of the gulf state. It was not immediately known when the dialogue, known as the intra-Afghan negotiations, will begin, though some reports said it could be as soon as Saturday.
 Taliban Free 20 Afghan Prisoners The announcement comes in response to the release of 300 Taliban prisoners by Kabul government Taliban sources also have confirmed the release of all their 5,000 prisoners from Afghan jails in return for more than 1,000 government security forces the insurgent group held captive. They have acknowledged, however, that a group of seven Taliban prisoners would be transferred to Doha, where they would be kept under supervision of the host government.Taliban spokespersons did not respond to VOA requests for comment on the latest developments.
 US-Taliban deal
 
The peace talks stem from a landmark agreement between the United States and the Taliban that aims to end the nearly two-decade Afghan war, America’s longest.
 
The deal, sealed in Doha Feb. 29, binds the Afghan government and the Taliban to negotiate a permanent cease-fire and a political settlement to govern the war-shattered country after the withdrawal of all American and allied troops.
 
President Donald Trump’s administration has reduced the number of U.S. forces from about 13,000 to 8,600 since signing the pact and officials say the “conditions-based” drawdown will see all American troops out of the Afghanistan by mid-2021.
 
In return, the Taliban has committed to fight terrorism and politically reconcile with other Afghan factions to end decades of hostilities.Taliban political affairs chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, center, heads for talks with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, right, and Pakistani spy agency ISI chief Lt. Gen Faiz Hameed, left, in Islamabad, Aug. 25, 2020. (Courtesy photo)Pakistan’s role
 
Leaders in neighboring Pakistan, which is credited with playing a crucial role in facilitating the U.S.-Taliban talks, have warned the proposed intra-Afghan negotiations could be a long and frustrating process.
 
“This 19 years of war in Afghanistan has created such divisions in the society, there’s been so much bloodshed that for anyone to believe in this utopia that suddenly they will all get together and there will be peace, I am afraid it’s a very complicated situation,” Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan told Aljazeera TV Thursday.
 
“The longer this war went, the more the rivalries, the hatred, the divisions and the more difficult it is to actually sit down together with all the antagonists. But this is the nearest we have got to peace in Afghanistan and a political solution,” Khan emphasized.
 
“This is a miracle that it is actually happening. We pray that this happens,” he added.
 
Allegations that Pakistan sheltered and covertly supported the Taliban insurgency have long strained Islamabad’s turbulent relations with Kabul and Washington.
 
Khan said his government has used whatever influence it had with the insurgents to push them to the table for peace talks. The effort, he insisted, has led to Pakistan’s improved relationship with the U.S.
 
“We probably have the best relationship with the United States right now because we are partners in peace in Afghanistan. We did not have such a good relationship a few years back,” said the Pakistani prime minister.

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