Afghans free 900 Taliban prisoners in hope of extended ceasefire

NAE
AFGHANISTAN-CONFLICT-CEASEFIRE
AFGHANISTAN-CONFLICT-CEASEFIRE

Taliban prisoners walk out vehicles after their release from the Bagram prison, as they arrive in the city of Kabul on May 26, 2020. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty

The Afghan government announced Tuesday the release of 900 more Taliban prisoners. It was a goodwill gesture aimed at convincing the insurgent group to extend a three-day truce, set to expire at midnight, which has quelled all major violence across the country.

More broadly, leaders in Kabul were hoping the latest large prisoner release might breathe life back into the flailing peace process launched with the bilateral agreement struck earlier this year between Washington and the Taliban. The Trump administration, just as keen to see the peace process move forward so it can pull U.S. troops out of the war, welcomed both the prisoner release and the ceasefire.

“The government is releasing up to 900 Taliban prisoners from across Afghanistan today to advance the cause of peace, including the continuation of the bilateral ceasefire and the immediate start of direct negotiations,” Javid Faisal, spokesman for the office of Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor, said Tuesday. “The extension of a ceasefire is important, and we are ready to extend it.”

The release of 900 prisoners by the other side is a good progress. The Islamic Emirate will release a remarkable number of prisoners soon, inshaAllah.

— Suhail Shaheen (@suhailshaheen1) May 26, 2020

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Taliban would agree to extend the truce, but a spokesman for the group’s political office in Qatar called the prisoner release “good progress,” and said the Taliban would “release a remarkable number of prisoners soon” in response, “god willing.”

The Afghan people had a very clear message to the insurgents, with widespread demands ricocheting around social media for an immediate halt to the bloodshed and a prolonged ceasefire.

“I felt so happy that I could go out without any tension of suicide attacks. I wish this continues so we can enjoy peace” Kabul resident Mirwais, who like many Afghans goes by just one name, told CBS News on Tuesday.

After a week of intense violence across the country, including a bloody attack on a hospital maternity ward in Kabul that saw newborns and pregnant women slaughtered, the Taliban announced that it would observe a three-day truce on Saturday. It said the ceasefire was to “honor the end of the holy month of Ramadan and celebrate Eid festivities in ease and comfort.”

Afghans welcomed the announcement, which came after a demand by the government for a halt in the violence.

“I welcome the ceasefire announcement by the Taliban. The Afghan government extends the offer of peace,” President Ashraf Ghani said in a speech to the nation.

The militants’ surprise decision to accept the truce was lauded by the international community, the United Nations and the United States, which signed the withdrawal deal with the Taliban earlier this year in a bid to wind-down America’s longest war.

The deal calls for the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners from the Afghan government jails and, in return, the insurgents are to release nearly 1,000 Afghan security forces. Once that all happens, the idea is for long-elusive direct talks between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s government to begin.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the truce in a tweet on Sunday, saying it, “presents a tremendous opportunity for Afghans to overcome other obstacles and move urgently to intra-Afghan negotiations that end the war.”

I welcome the announcements by the Taliban and the Afghan government of a three-day Eid ceasefire. This presents a tremendous opportunity for Afghans to overcome other obstacles and move urgently to intra Afghan negotiations that end the war.

— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) May 24, 2020

As of Tuesday, the Afghan government had released 2,000 Taliban prisoners. The other 3,000 are set to go free in several more phased releases — provided the Taliban refrain from violence.

As the truce reached its third and final day, Afghans adopted a “#ExtendTheCeasefire” hashtag on social media, calling on the Taliban to agree to an extension.

Activist and political ethnographer Orzala Nemat addressed the militant group directly on Twitter, using the hashtag and adding: “We KNOW your capacity to KILL, now show us your capacity to kindness & peace.” 

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