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Prisoner Release Possible After Taliban Talks

By Farhad Naibkhel

KABUL: In defending his stance on releasing Taliban fighters from Afghanistan prisons, President Ashraf Ghani said on Sunday that his government has made no commitment to free thousands of Taliban prisoners before direct negotiations with the Taliban, expected to start on March 10th.

The Taliban demand for Kabul to free its prisoners cannot be a prerequisite to direct talks with the hardline group, Ghani told a news briefing in Kabul. Ghani also echoed his standpoint for protection of the Islamic Republic system – as the Taliban may seem reluctant to accept.

He stressed that the negotiating team with the Taliban would have limited authority and that the final decision rests with “the Parliament, a Loya Jirga or a public survey”.

Ghani said the US has no authority to release Taliban prisoners. “It is the authority of the Afghan government and it can be discussed only in inclusive negotiations.”

Hi hinted at the nature of talks, saying that the US-Taliban negotiations were limited but they would be wider between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

A peace agreement was signed between the United States and the hardline Taliban after marathon negotiations in Qatar, legitimising a release of roughly 5,000 rebel prisoners.

Under the agreement, the Afghan government would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners by March 10th in exchange for 1,000 government detainees and the rest of other prisoners would be released in three months afterwards.

The deal includes a 14-month deadline for withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan, political settlement resulting from intra-Afghan dialogue, a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, and guarantees to prevent the use of Afghan soil by any terrorist groups against the security of the US and its allies.

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