Afghan assembly begins to decide fate of 400 Taliban prisoners

Kabul -By Hesamuddin Hesam, – Thousands of Afghans on Friday gathered in Kabul to decide whether the government should release 400 Taliban prisoners, which is considered a precondition for the start of intra-Afghan peace talks.

Under tight security measures, President Ashraf Ghani, Cabinet members, politicians and around 3,000 participants gathered on the outskirts of Kabul in the morning to inaugurate the Loya Jirga – a traditional Afghan consultative grand assembly of elders - despite the coronavirus crisis.
Ghani said if these prisoners are freed the Taliban insurgents have promised to start direct peace talks with the government within the next three days but if not they will intensify their ongoing war.
"Taliban has committed that if these 400 prisoners are released they will start direct negotiations with the government within three days and the first agenda of the talks will be an agreement on a permanent ceasefire," Ghani said.
The president's speech was interrupted by a participant who was holding a banner that read: "Ransom to the savage Taliban is a national betrayal."
In response to the criticism that the government was giving up too much to the insurgents, Ghani responded that the decision was ultimately up to the Loya Jirga.
The head of the country’s national reconciliation council, Abdullah Abdullah, who is chairing the three-day meeting, said the decision is "a matter of life and death."
Before the start of the gathering, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on the Afghan gathering to decide to release the remaining militants that Washington agreed to free under an agreement with the Taliban insurgents in February.
These inmates have been sentenced for murder, drug smuggling, kidnapping, and other major crimes against both Afghans and foreigners.
"We acknowledge that the release of these prisoners is unpopular," Pompeo said in a statement late Thursday. "But this difficult action will lead to an important result long sought by Afghans and Afghanistan's friends."
A positive outcome of the gathering means a reduction in violence and the immediate start of intra-Afghan peace talks, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted.
Under the US-Taliban agreement, Kabul was supposed to free up to 5,000 Taliban inmates while the Taliban had committed to free up to 1,000 pro-government inmates.
The government has already released 4,600 inmates based on a Taliban list and an additional 500, but the Taliban insists on the release of the last 400 it originally demanded before any peace talks can begin.

Friday, August 7th 2020
By Hesamuddin Hesam,

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