Ghani vows to expedite prisoner release

Afghan President accepts offer of three-day truce by Taliban militants

May 24, 2020 06:45 am | Updated 09:27 pm IST - KABUL

Ashraf Ghani. File

Ashraf Ghani. File

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani vowed Sunday to speed up the release of Taliban prisoners, and said he was ready to hold peace talks with the insurgents after accepting their surprise offer of a ceasefire.

The Taliban proposed a three-day truce over the Id al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramzan starting Sunday, which Mr. Ghani swiftly agreed to.

“As a responsible government we take one more step forward — I announce that I will expedite the Taliban prisoner releases,” Mr. Ghani said in an address to the nation marking the holiday.

A U.S.-Taliban deal signed in February stipulated that the Afghan government would release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners while the insurgents would free about 1,000 Afghan security force personnel. The prisoner swap is seen as a confidence-building move ahead of long-awaited talks between the government and Taliban. Kabul has so far released about 1,000 Taliban inmates while the insurgents have freed about 300 Afghan security force personnel.

Mr. Ghani said a government delegation was “ready to immediately start the peace talks” with the insurgents. Government negotiators would be headed by Mr. Ghani’s former bitter rival Abdullah Abdullah after the two signed a power-sharing deal last week that ended a months-long political crisis.

Mr. Abdullah also hailed the ceasefire offer and said peace talks should now be the priority as the country also grapples with rising coronavirus infections. “Peace is the priority of the people of Afghanistan,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that he welcomed any step that ends the “long suffering” of the country.

U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who brokered the deal, said on Twitter on Saturday that the United States welcomed the ceasefire.





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