Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 29 October 2020

Afghan peace talks to go ahead despite prisoner release confusion

Talks were held up after France and Australia raised objections to release of six Taliban fighters

The Afghan government has released hundreds of Taliban prisoners as part of a US-Taliban agreement signed in Doha in February. EPA
The Afghan government has released hundreds of Taliban prisoners as part of a US-Taliban agreement signed in Doha in February. EPA

The much delayed intra-Afghan talks are set to begin on Saturday, the Afghan government and Taliban confirmed.

US President Donald Trump revealed on Thursday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had left for Doha, Qatar, for the talks.

Mr Trump said that America would "be down to 4,000 soldiers in Afghanistan in a very short period of time".

The Afghan government’s delegation of 21 members will be led by Dr Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the National Reconciliation Council.

It will include acting foreign minister Hanif Atmar, President Ashraf Ghani's special representative, Salam Rahimi, and Saadat Naderi, Minister of Peace.

“In accordance with the agreement reached with the US, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan announces its readiness to participate in the inaugural meeting of the intra-Afghan dialogue,” Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem said.

The US administration made the deal with the Taliban in February. AP
The US administration made the deal with the Taliban in February. AP

“[The Taliban] intends to carry out the negotiation process and establish sustainable peace and a pure Islamic system within the framework of Islamic values ​​and for the highest interests of our country."

Negotiations between the parties were delayed after the governments of France and Australia objected to the release of the last six of the 5,000 prisoners who the Taliban demanded be freed before the talks.

A security source in the Afghan government confirmed to The National that the remaining prisoners were released and sent to Doha on Thursday evening, clearing way for the commencements of the talks.

Taliban is trying to portray itself as the winners, so their demands will reflect the same certainty and rigidity

Hekmatullah Azamy

But it is not clear why these six prisoners were transferred to Qatar while the others were released in Afghanistan after they guaranteed that they would not rejoin the battle.

Talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban were due since March, after the US administration made a deal with the insurgent group on February 28.

But the Taliban set rigid conditions in the deal and was promised the release of up to 5,000 prisoners as a gesture of good will.

The Afghan government was not party to the deal and was not consulted over the release of prisoners in its custody, which created friction.

“From what I understand the first meetings, which will be purely introductory, will see demands from the Pakistani and Afghan governments, which will set the course for the talks ahead,” Hekmatullah Azamy, the deputy director at the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies in Kabul, told The National.

Mr Azamy has been following the developments within the government very closely, and predicts a few “big moves”.

“Taliban is trying to portray itself as the winners, so their demands will reflect the same certainty and rigidity,” he said.

“As a general, emotional appeal would be for the ceasefire but I can tell you with a lot of certainly that an unconditional ceasefire will not be acceptable for the Taliban."

Mr Azamy said that the Afghan government’s team seemed unprepared as to what their demands are.

"I am concerned that many will be pursing their own agenda instead of the the agenda of the republic,” he said.

Updated: September 11, 2020 02:25 AM

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