The intra-Afghan talks are scheduled to take place on March 10 between the Taliban and the Afghan Government. The Afghan Taliban on Friday announced they were ready to proceed with the intra-Afghan dialogue if Ashraf Ghani agrees to the prisoner swap agreement.
“If the provisions of the agreements are implemented and prisoners are released, the Islamic Emirate is prepared for intra-Afghan negotiations on March 10. Our negotiation team and agenda are ready and will go ahead as agreed,” Suhail Shaheen, the spokesperson of the Taliban’s political office based in Doha said in a statement.
Shaheen, however, made it clear that the Taliban would not be responsible if there was a delay in the start of the intra-Afghan talks. “If the negotiations are delayed beyond the stated date, the responsibility will rest with the others,” the Taliban spokesperson added.
All this comes after the U.S. and the Taliban signed an agreement Feb. 29 in Doha, Qatar with the aim of “bringing peace to Afghanistan” more than 18 years after U.S. forces kicked the Taliban out of power.
Both the US and Taliban agreed for a prisoner swap arrangement where it was decided that the Afghan Government would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners ahead of the intra-Afghan dialogue. Ghani objected to arrangements within the deal as a condition for direct talks between the Taliban and the government.
“The government of Afghanistan has made no commitment to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners,” President Ghani told reporters in Kabul on Sunday, a day after the accord was signed in Doha.
The stalemate prompted US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to dash to Kabul and reminded the Ghani administration that the release of prisoners was not only part of the US-Taliban deal but also the US-Afghan joint agreement.
“We must act on all fronts to clear the road of obstacles that slow our progress toward intra-Afghan negotiations. I once again call on all Afghans to rise to the occasion, put country first and not to lose this historic opportunity,” he said in a series of tweets on Thursday.
“History will judge Afghans by how they embrace this moment of opportunity. The mistakes of the past should be avoided and Afghans must come together and build an inclusive, united and sovereign country,” Khalilzad added.
While the prisoner swap could turn into a stumbling block for peace to return to the war-torn country, Ghani also said that a seven-day “reduction in violence” (RIV) would continue, until a full ceasefire can be negotiated.
The RIV, which saw a decline in violence across the country, had been a condition for the signing of the US-Taliban deal. The Taliban now controls more Afghan territory than at any point since 2001 and has carried out near-daily attacks against military outposts throughout the country.
Yesterday, gunmen opened fire at a ceremony in Kabul attended by prominent political leaders, killing at least 32 people and wounding dozens before the two attackers were neutralized by the forces, officials said. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on its website.