KABUL – Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani announced on Friday that he will call for a Loya Jirga, an assembly of elders and political elites, to advise the government on the release of the remaining 400 Taliban prisoners to complete the prisoner exchange process, which is a pre-condition for intra-Afghan talks.
In a televised address to the nation on the occasion of the beginning of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha or “festival of sacrifice,” Ghani said that he “doesn’t have the authority” to release the last batch of prisoners included in a list drawn up by the Taliban as they are imprisoned for common crimes.
“But this does not mean we will be giving a negative response about the release of these prisoners,” Ghani said. “I don’t have the authority of releasing them. I will invite the Consultative Loya Jirga for the (decision on the) fate of these 400 Taliban prisoners.
The Jirga will be organized “very soon,” said Ghani, adding that “we take this step in order to remove all obstacles on the way of peace,” referring to the insurgents’ repeated warning that they will not sit down for negotiations until the Taliban prisoners have been released.
The prisoner swap was part of the peace agreement signed in Qatar between the Taliban and the United States on Feb. 29, wherein the government was to release 5,000 prisoners, of which 400 remain, and the Taliban were to do the same with 1,000 Afghan security forces members, which was done on Thursday.
“Despite the Afghan government not having any commitment in the Taliban’s agreement with America, in order for peace talks to begin soon, we released 4,600 prisoners, based on the Taliban list. This step was taken to prove the commitment of the government to peace,” Ghani said.
Moreover, as a “goodwill gesture” and, in response to the three-day ceasefire declared by the Taliban from Friday, he announced the release in the next four days of 500 more insurgent prisoners who are not on the Taliban’s list.
“In response to the Taliban’s announcement of the ceasefire and as a goodwill gesture and for the acceleration of the peace process, in addition to the Taliban’s list of 5,000 prisoners, I announce the release of 500 more Taliban prisoners,” Ghani added.
During his address, the Afghan president once again urged the insurgents to start peace talks “as soon as possible” so that the release of more prisoners could be discussed.
In another speech on Tuesday, Ghani expressed his intention to complete the process of exchanging prisoners so that the peace talks could begin next week, to which the Taliban agreed after announcing the conclusion of their part of the deal on Thursday.