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Taliban ready to begin peace talks in a week: Spokesman

Taliban prisoners walk as they are in the process of being potentially released from Pul-e-Charkhi prison, on the outskirts of Kabul on July 31, 2020. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on July 31 ordered the release of 500 Taliban prisoners as part of a new ceasefire that could lead into long-delayed peace talks. (Courtesy: AFP / Wakil Kohsar)

Kabul: The Taliban is ready to begin intra-Afghan negotiations within a week if the prisoner release process is completed, a spokesman of the militant group announced.

The first round of talks expected to be held in Doha, will be led by Abbas Stanikzai, the former chief negotiator of the Taliban, TOLO News quoted spokesman Suhail Shaheen as saying in an interview with BBC Pashto.

 

His remarks come hours after the Loya Jirga, the grand assembly of Afghan elders, approved the release of the remaining 400 high-value Taliban prisoners, a decision that was deemed a key hurdle to the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations.

In response to a question on the Taliban’s willingness for a ceasefire, which was called for at the Jirga, Shaheen said: “The ceasefire is part of the intra-Afghan negotiations agenda that will be discussed there. It has been mentioned in the Doha agreement.”

He said that the Taliban has not attacked major provinces and has not tried to capture centres of provinces, referring to a question on reduction in violence.

“We also have not attacked the capital, Kabul. We have reduced violence,” he said.

Shaheen said the group has the will for peace, and cited its opening of the Qatar office as an example.

He however, criticized a delay in the completion of the prisoner release process and said the group will continue to implement its commitments to the agreement they signed with the US in Doha in February.

According to government data, out of the 400 prisoners in question, 156 of them have been sentenced to death, 105 of them are accused of murder, 34 of them are accused of kidnapping that led to murder, 51 of them are accused of drug smuggling, 44 of them are on the blacklist of the Afghan government and its allies, 6 of them are accused of other crimes, 4 are accused of unspecified crimes, TOLO News reported.

The list of 5,000 prisoners was given to the Afghan government by the Taliban to be released ahead of intra-Afghan negotiations.

So far, the government has released 4,600 of the prisoners on the Taliban list, and an additional 500 who were not on the Taliban list.

These last 500 were freed during Eid in response to the Taliban’s announcement of a ceasefire.