Afghanistan’s government has freed 933 Taliban prisoners since the terrorists agreed to a peace deal with the U.S. in February, Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported on Friday.
The jihadis were released as part of an ongoing prisoner-exchange program that came about after the United States and the Taliban signed a peace deal on February 29. The agreement stipulates that the U.S. will gradually withdraw from Afghanistan if the jihadis provide certain security assurances, but requires communication from both sides in the form of peace talks. An exchange of prisoners was devised as a way to build trust between the two sides — the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the Taliban — in the hope of starting the peace talks.
The U.S. participated in the deal because the Taliban does not recognize the official government of Afghanistan as legitimate. Instead, it considers itself the only true government ruling Afghanistan.
“So far, 933 Taliban detainees have been released from Afghan jails,” Javed Faisal, spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Security Council, said on Thursday, Dawn reports.
“In return, the Taliban have released 132 Kabul [government] administration prisoners,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
Under the conditions of the prisoner swap, the Afghan government will eventually release 5,000 Taliban jihadis and the terrorists will free 1,000 members of Afghanistan’s security forces, according to the report.
A March 10 date was originally proposed as the deadline for the prisoner exchange, but the jihadis have repeatedly refused to cooperate with the peace deal, demanding extra concessions and stalling progress.
According to the Afghan government, the Taliban have asked for 15 of their “top commanders” to be freed, which was not part of the deal, as Dawn reports. The Taliban has also pressured the government to release jihadis early claiming they are worried the prisoners may contract the coronavirus in Afghan prisons, according to the report.
So far, Afghan government officials claim they have only released “low-risk” Taliban prisoners who have “vowed to abstain from fighting,” Dawn reports.
According to the report, the U.S. has encouraged both sides to complete the prisoner swap as soon as possible so that peace talks may begin. The talks are necessary to facilitate America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Afghan officials have reported a “surge in violence” from jihadis across the country recently, hindering efforts to start peace talks between the two sides, according to the newspaper. The February peace pact called for the terrorists not to target members of the U.S.-led coalition, but Afghan soldiers were not given a promise of protection.
On April 8, Afghanistan released 100 Taliban jihadis as a gesture of goodwill and to jumpstart peace talks, after the Taliban halted planned peace talks days earlier.