Taliban halts peace talks with Afghanistan government over prisoner release row

Taliban halts peace talks with Afghanistan government over prisoner release row
Afghan officials have refused to release Taliban commanders with 'blood on their hands'.
3 min read
07 April, 2020
Talks have been frustrated by political chaos in Afghanistan [Getty]
The Taliban on Tuesday quit peace talks with the Afghan government after officials refused to approve the release of prominent members of the extremist group, local media reported.

"The release of prisoners... has been delayed under one pretext or another till now. Therefore, our technical team will not participate in fruitless meetings... starting from tommorrow," Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheed said in a tweet. 

The group's withdrawal from peace negotiations follows warnings last week that the extremist group could launch fresh attacks on Afghan forces if its demands are not met.

The release of Taliban prisoners held in Afghan detention is part of a deal signed by the US and the extremist group in late February to realise Washington's withdrawal of troops from the war-ravaged nation.

The deal requires the Afghan government - which was not a signatory to the accord - to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners, and for the insurgents to release 1,000 pro-government captives in return.

The swap was supposed to have taken place by March 10, at which point peace talks between the Taliban and the government were meant to have begun. 
Disagreements over who can be released under that programme have stalled negotations.

Matin Bek, head of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance and a member of Kabul's negotiating team, said on Monday that the Taliban had demanded the release of several prominent commanders involved in "big attacks".

"We are ready to release 400 [prisoners] in the first phase. It is the Taliban who do not want this," Bek was quoted as saying by Tolo News.

"They are asking for the release of 15 [commanders]. If we release the 15 individuals, their hands are stained with people's blood," Bek told a press conference on Monday.

'Near breaking point'

The Taliban said on Sunday its peace deal with the United States was nearing a breaking point, accusing Washington of violations that included drone attacks on civilians, while also chastising the Afghan government for delaying the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners promised in the agreement.

The extremist group said they had restricted attacks against Afghan security forces to rural outposts, had not attacked international forces or Afghan forces in cities or military installations.

It said these limits on their attacks had not been specifically laid out in the agreement with the US signed in February in Qatar.

The Taliban's statement warned of more violence if the US and the Afghan government continue alleged violations of the deal.

US military spokesman Colonel Sonny Leggett hit back at the allegations, saying the US forces in Afghanistan has "upheld and continues to uphold the military terms of the U.S.-TB [Taliban] agreement; any assertion otherwise is baseless".

The Afghan peace process has also been frustrated by political turmoil in the country, with both President Ashraf Ghani and his opponent, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, declaring victory in elections earlier this year.

Washington has threatened to withhold $1 billion in aid this year if Ghani and Abdullah can't reach a compromise.

Agencies contributed to this report

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