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article imageOp-Ed: Taliban quits talks with Afghan government on prisoner swap

By Ken Hanly     Apr 8, 2020 in Politics
The Taliban walked out of talks with the Afghan government on Tuesday complaining that the face-to-face peace talks had been fruitless. The talks were to negotiate a prison swap that was part of a peace agreement between the US and the Taliban.
The Taliban US prisoner swap deal
As part of a peace agreement between the US and the Taliban signed the end of February there was to be a confidence-building prisoner swap of 5,000 Taliban prisoners with 1,000 Afghan government prisoners held by the Taliban. After walking out of the meetings, the Taliban said that they did not think the Afghan government would ever release their prisoners. Both the US and the Taliban have lists of those who were to be released.
The Afghan government response
The Afghan government was not part of the negotiations and refused to abide by the terms negotiated by the US. The Afghan president Ashraf Ghani said the prisoner release could not be a prerequisite for talks but had to part of the negotiations. During the talks the Taliban have insisted that all prisoners be released at one blow whereas at most the Afghan government has offered to release the prisoners by stages and conditionally.
A Taliban spokesperson said that in spite of the talks Ghani had kept delaying releases under one pretext or another. Ghani absolutely refused to release any high-ranking Taliban. The most they offered was to release 400 low-level Taliban and even that release came with massive concessions in return. Given that the Taliban had originally demanded the complete swap even before balks, it is not surprising that they decided to abandon the whole process.
According to Matin Bek, a member of the government's negotiating team, the Taliban wanted the release of 15 commanders believed to be involved in what were referred to as big attacks. However, these commanders would presumably be among the names on the list negotiated with the US. Bek said the government could not release the killers of their people. All that the Afghan government were willing to release were 400 low level Taliban and in return for a reduced level of violence. Obviously this was nowhere near the original swap conditions and was not accepted by the Taliban.
Once Ghani decided not to meet the terms of the prisoner swap negotiated by the US and the Taliban it was quite likely that there would be no peace agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The Taliban had in response renewed some attacks on the government but not on foreign forces. However, the US came to the defense of the Afghan government and this meant that the Taliban again came into conflict with the Taliban.
The situation is complicated by the fact that the Afghan government is in political turmoil with the presidency and government of Ashraf Ghani being challenged by presidential competitor Abdullah Abdullah. Each has had its own confirmation ceremony. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried to get the two to form a unit government to no avail. As a result the US has cancelled one billions dollars of aid to Afghanistan and even threatened total withdrawal. The US is obviously losing patience with the actions of the Afghan government.
UPDATE: After the Taliban left the talks
the Afghan government is reported to have released 100 low-risk Taliban prisoners on its own. No doubt this is intended to persuade the Taliban to return to talks. Given the Taliban rejection of a larger release it would appear unlikely to have that effect. Perhaps it is a PR stunt to make the Afghan government look better and keep the support of the US. The US wants at the very least a solution to the political crisis and the release has nothing to do with that.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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