Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani has issued a decree promising to release 1,500 Taliban prisoners.
A recent peace deal signed between the United States and the Taliban called for the release of up to 5,000 prisoners ahead of the much sought-after negotiations.
There was no official response from the Taliban, but The Associated Press saw a letter that Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, the head of the Taliban’s Prisoners Commission, sent to the prisoners, their families and Taliban leaders promising there would be no talks until all the prisoners are released.
The letter was sent last weekend. It says the Taliban would verify that each prisoner released is among those on the list given to an American delegation.
However, the presidential decree went on to say the first round of 1,500 prisoners will be selected based on age, health and the length of their sentences already served. The released prisoners, who will be biometrically identified, will also have to give a written guarantee that they will not return to the battlefield.
The remaining 3,500 prisoners will be released after negotiations begin and 500 will be released every two weeks providing the Taliban reduce violence on the battlefield, Mr Ghani’s decree said.
However, even if the Taliban agree to start negotiations, Kabul’s political turmoil and relentless bickering between Mr Ghani and his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who has also sworn himself in as Afghanistan’s president, have left Kabul struggling to come up with a united negotiating team.
Mr Ghani’s decree came as the US State Department issued a statement saying that the level of violence is “unacceptable” and that while the Taliban have stopped attacks against the US-led coalition forces and in Afghan cities, the violence in the countryside remains too high.
The statement also said Afghanistan’s “presidential electoral crisis” has delayed the establishment of a national negotiating team and the start of peace talks, which were to begin on Tuesday in Oslo, Norway.
Despite the political chaos in Kabul and increased violence on the battlefield, the United States has started withdrawing its troops in keeping with the deal it signed on February 29 with the Taliban. In the first phase, Washington will reduce its troops contingent to 8,600, down from the current 13,000.
If the Taliban adhere to their commitments to deny terrorists safe havens in Afghanistan, Washington will withdraw the remainder of its troops over 14 months, according to the agreement.