‘We Cannot Release Killers of Our People’
The Taliban militant group announced on Monday it would no longer participate in discussions with the Afghan government negotiating the release of prisoners as a precondition for peace talks. Delegates from the two parties have been meeting in the Afghan capital of Kabul for a week, trying to hammer out the deal.
“We sent a technical team of the Prisoner’s Commission to Kabul for verification and identification of our prisoners as release of prisoners was to start, as per the signed agreement and the promise made [to us],” Taliban political spokesperson Suhail Shaheen tweeted on Monday.
“But, unfortunately, their release has been delayed under one pretext or another till now. Therefore, our technical team will not participate in fruitless meetings with relevant sides starting from tomorrow,” Shaheen said. He later explicitly clarified the technical team was being withdrawn from Kabul “with immediate effect.”
(2/2)— Suhail Shaheen (@suhailshaheen1) April 6, 2020
But, unfortunately, their release has been delayed under one pretext or another till now. Therefore, our technical team will not participate in fruitless meetings with relevant sides starting from tomorrow.
Matin Bek, a member of the Afghan government's negotiating team, told Agence France-Presse that the release had been delayed because the government did not want to include 15 of the Taliban’s “top commanders” in the release.
"We cannot release the killers of our people," Bek, who heads the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, told reporters on Monday. "We don't want them to go back to the battlefield and capture a whole province."
The minister did say the government was willing to release as many as 400 low-threat Taliban prisoners as a gesture of goodwill if the Taliban would agree to a “considerable” reduction in violence, but the militant group rejected that deal.
Kabul Rejects an Absentee Deal
When the Taliban signed its historic peace deal with the United States last month in Doha, Qatar, Washington’s delegates promised the Afghan government would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners; the Taliban agreed to exchange them for 1,000 prisoners from the Afghan Armed Forces.
However, the Kabul government wasn’t party to the Doha talks, as the Taliban regards it as illegitimate and has until recently refused to negotiate with it. The present government was put into place in 2001 after the US-led invasion deposed the Taliban government.
While Afghan President Ashraf Ghani initially rejected the notion of a release, weeks of pressure by US diplomats saw him agree to a phased release of the 5,000 prisoners. While the Taliban voiced its deep displeasure at this change in the agreement, it still sent delegates to Kabul last week to hammer out the details of which prisoners would be set free.
“Discussions on release of Afghan security forces and Taliban prisoners had entered an important phase ahead of release,” Afghan National Security Council spokesperson Javid Faisal told the New York Times on Tuesday.
“Withdrawing from talks at such a time indicates a lack of seriousness about peace,” Faisal said. “We tried our best - that they need to trust us, and we trust them as we have to work together. We thought their arrival in Kabul was a big step.”
Taliban Denounces ‘Repeated Violations’ by US Airstrikes
The collapse of Taliban-Kabul talks comes just a day after the militant group criticized Washington as imperiling their peace deal with persistent airstrikes.
"We seriously ask the American side to respect the provisions of the agreement and encourage its allies too to fully respect the provisions of the agreement," the Taliban said in a statement given to Spanish news agency EFE in Kabul on Sunday.
"If such violations continue, it will develop an atmosphere of distrust and will not only harm the agreement, but will force Mujahidins [Taliban fighters] to react and respond that will increase the level of violence" in the country, the Taliban said, according to the Indo-Asian News Service.
While the Taliban enumerated several such incidents, it seems that at least some of them have been claimed by the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) as their own attacks on Taliban positions.
For example, a Monday report by Kabul-based Khaama Press News Agency noted the ANDSF carried out “a series of airstrikes” in Uruzgan and Zabul provinces that killed or wounded dozens of Taliban fighters, but the Taliban attributed this attack to US forces, Sputnik reported.
The peace deal provides for the gradual withdrawal of a sizable portion of US forces deployed in the country, where they have been engaged in counterinsurgency missions and nation-building since late 2001.