President Ashraf Ghani has signed a decree pardoning Taliban fighters held in Afghan prisons. The move was part of the peace deal Washington made with the group, but official Kabul hesitated to act on it, demanding guarantees.
The Afghan president “has signed the decree that would facilitate the release of the Taliban prisoners in accordance with an accepted framework for the start of negotiation between the Taliban and the Afghan government,” Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi tweeted on Tuesday, announcing the measure.
President Ghani has signed the decree that would facilitate the release of the Taliban prisoners in accordance with an accepted framework for the start of negotiation between the Taliban and the afghan government. Details of the decree will be shared tomorrow.
— Sediq Sediqqi (@SediqSediqqi) March 10, 2020
The decree will see around 1,500 Taliban militants freed from prisons across Afghanistan, starting within the next four days. Each of them will have to provide a written guarantee that they won’t be returning to the battlefield.
The Taliban have promised to honor the deal, saying that they would release around 1,000 Afghan government troops as part of the swap.
Under the agreement signed by the US and the Taliban in Qatar last month, as many as 5,000 members of the militant movement were to be released by March 10, to pave the way to intra-Afghan talks on the future of the country.
However, the deal got stuck in Kabul, where Ghani demanded “executive guarantees” the freed prisoners would not take up arms again.
In the meantime, Taliban attacks on the government forces continued. Last week, around 20 Afghan soldiers and police were killed in clashes with the group, forcing the US to retaliate with an airstrike and put the fragile ceasefire at risk of a collapse.
American troops began their withdrawal from Afghanistan earlier on Tuesday, however, with the US military’s spokesman Sonny Leggett announcing the start of the “conditions-based reduction of forces to 8,600 over 135 days.”
With the US determined to withdraw and leave the authorities in Kabul to fend for themselves, Ghani appears to have changed his mind in an effort to shore up his legitimacy. His re-election in the September 2019 polls, validated only three weeks ago, has been disputed as fraudulent by challenger and former aide Abdullah Abdullah.
The deal with the Taliban is expected to allow the US and NATO troops to finally withdraw from Afghanistan, putting an end to the 18-year presence that began as a mission to capture Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama Bin Laden in 2001, but quickly morphed into open-ended “reconstruction” and occupation.
There are currently around 13,000 US servicemen in Afghanistan, the majority of whom are training and advising the local troops, while some 5,000 are taking part in anti-terrorist operations.