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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Pakistan: Afghanistan decision to release Taliban inmates is welcomed

Pakistan has welcomed the Afghan decision to release Taliban, showing its elation at the prospects of a lasting peace.

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Pakistan on Wednesday welcomed the Afghan grand assembly’s proposed release of some 400 key Taliban prisoners, a key demand from the warring group for the start of the much-awaited intra-Afghan dialogue and move forward with Afghan Peace.

During a farewell meeting with outgoing Afghan Ambassador Shukrullah Atif Mashal in the capital Islamabad, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi hoped the intra-Afghan negotiations would commence “at the earliest” bringing the 18-year war in Afghanistan to an end.

“Loya Jirga” in Kabul decides fate of Taliban prisoners

An agreement by US and Taliban negotiators in Doha in February stipulates that 5,000 Taliban prisoners should be released from Afghan jails as a precondition to the armed group entering peace talks with the internationally-recognised government.

President Ashraf Ghani’s government has released all but 400, saying their crimes were too grave.

Some 3,200 people have been invited to the Loya Jirga in Kabul amid tight security on Friday to debate for at least three days and then advise the government on whether the prisoners should be freed.

“These 400 are those who have been convicted in killings from two to 40 people, drug trafficking, those sentenced to death and involved in major crimes, including kidnapping,” Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the president, said.

“We acknowledge that the release of these prisoners is unpopular,” Pompeo said in a statement.

Read more: Afghanistan’s grand assembly for troubled peace process

“But this difficult action will lead to an important result long sought by Afghans and Afghanistan’s friends: reduction of violence and direct talks resulting in a peace agreement and an end to the war.”

The prisoners’ fate is a crucial issue in determining when peace talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government might begin, as the two foes had committed to completing a prisoner exchange ahead of talks.

While Kabul has released almost 5,000 Taliban inmates, authorities have baulked at freeing a final 400 or so demanded by the Taliban.

According to an official list of the Taliban prisoners seen by AFP, many of the inmates are accused of serious offences, with more than 150 of them on death row.

Jirga was held to decide fate of prisoners

President Ashraf Ghani has deferred the decision on whether to release these inmates to a Loya jirga — a traditional Afghan meeting of tribal elders and other stakeholders that is sometimes held to decide on controversial issues.

About 3,200 dignitaries are due to participate in Friday’s assembly, Loya jirga spokesman Jahanzaib Sharifi told AFP.

Under the prisoner exchange, Kabul was supposed to free 5,000 Taliban members, while the insurgents committed to releasing 1,000 government captives. Kabul hence has decided to honour the age-old tradition of the Loya Jirga.

The Taliban, which says it has fulfilled its side of the swap, has insisted it will not begin peace talks until all 5,000 prisoners are freed.

Read more: Afghan Endgame: Time running out for Kabul government Pakistan Afghan Peace

According to the list seen by AFP, the Taliban is demanding the release of an insurgent involved in the 2018 attack against British security firm G4S as well as several militants involved in the killing of US soldiers.

The US embassy in Kabul declined to comment.

Two militants involved in a suicide attack targeting a NATO convoy in Kabul in 2015 that killed 12 people, including three Americans, were also among the 400.

Two militants are also on the list for the 2003 murder of Bettina Goislard, a United Nations refugee worker.

Ahead of the Loya jirga, Human Rights Watch cautioned that many of the prisoners had been jailed under “overly broad terrorism laws that provide for indefinite preventive detention”.

“Secret trials and torture to coerce confessions may make it impossible to determine which prisoners actually committed serious crimes,” it said.

Pakistan elated at the prospect of lasting Afghan Peace 

Qureshi urged the Afghan leadership to seize “this historic opportunity to achieve a comprehensive, broad-based and inclusive political settlement” in the country, according to a statement from the Foreign Ministry.

On Sunday, Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga, or the grand assembly, approved the release of the Taliban prisoners, paving the way for start of direct talks between the group and the Kabul government.

Read more: How feudal lords use jirgas to maintain supremacy Pakistan Afghan Peace

Accepting the Loya Jirga’s recommendations, President Ashraf Ghani on Monday signed a decree to release the Taliban prisoners, Afghan media reported quoting unnamed government sources.

The move was part of a prisoner swap deal, following a landmark peace agreement between the US and the Taliban in Doha in February this year.

The Afghan government has so far released 4,600 Taliban prisoners, in addition to 500 prisoners, who were not in the Taliban list, according to local media.

Afghanistan thanks Pakistan for efforts towards Afghan peace 

Mashal, for his part, thanked Qureshi for his personal attention to further enhance Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral relations and for the consistent support extended by the Foreign Ministry, the statement said.

In December 2018, Pakistan arranged rare direct talks between Washington and the Taliban, paving the way for a negotiated settlement of the lingering conflict.

Read more: Afghan Endgame: Time running out for Kabul government Pakistan Afghan Peace

Pakistan also facilitated the landmark first round of direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Islamabad in July 2015.
That process broke down after the Taliban announced the death of their long-time leader Mullah Omar, triggering a bitter internal power struggle.

GVS News Desk with additional input by other sources