Afghan Government, Taliban To Discuss Prisoner Release 'Face To Face'

Afghan government officials are set to meet with a Taliban delegation in the coming days to discuss an initial release of militant prisoners, Afghanistan’s National Security Council says.

After the two sides spoke via video conference on March 25, council spokesman Javid Faisal tweeted, “A Taliban team will meet with the government face-to-face in Afghanistan in the coming days” to further discuss the release of 100 prisoners by March 31.

The detainees would be freed on humanitarian grounds “after guarantees by Taliban and the prisoners that they will not re-enter the fight,” Faisal wrote.

The development could help break a deadlock that has held up negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government under a U.S.-brokered peace process.

The video conference “decided that the release of the prisoners will practically start by the end of March,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said on Twitter.

Shaheen said the Taliban would send a team to the Bagram detention center north of Kabul, where Afghan authorities are holding many Taliban prisoners.

U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who attended the “technical meeting,” said the sides “agreed prisoner releases by both sides will start March 31.”

All sides consider the release of prisoners a prerequisite for the beginning of intra-Afghan talks.

But Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said the government would initially free 1,500 prisoners, while the Taliban has demanded 5,000 as a precondition to talks with Kabul.

Khalilzad has said a prisoner release has become more urgent because of the spread of coronavirus.

An agreement signed in Doha on February 29 by the United States and the Taliban could lead to the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan as part of a peace process aimed at bringing an end to the conflict in Afghanistan.

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