The Afghan government announced it would free 900 prisoners yesterday, its single largest prisoner release since the US and the Taliban signed a peace deal earlier this year that spells out an exchange of detainees between the warring sides.
The announcement came as a three-day ceasefire with the insurgents drew to an end. The Taliban had called for the truce during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
There are expectations that the prisoner release could lead to new reductions in violence, and Taliban officials said they are considering an extension of the ceasefire.
A senior Taliban figure confirmed this to The Associated Press.
“If these developments, like the announcement of prisoner release continues, it is possible to move forward with decisions like extending the brief ceasefire and to move in a positive direction with some minor issues,” the Taliban official said.
The prisoners were being released from Bagram prison, where the US still maintains a major military base, north of Kabul, as well as from the infamous Pul-e-Charkhi prison on the eastern edge of the Afghan capital.
By late afternoon, the AP witnessed scores of men pouring out of the Bagram compound — presumably the released prisoners. It was not immediately possible to verify their numbers or whether they were all Taliban members.
The prisoner release is part of the US deal with the Taliban, signed on Feb. 29, to allow for the eventual withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan, bringing to an end the nation’s protracted war and the US’ longest military involvement.
Under the deal, Kabul is to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners while the insurgents are to free 1,000 captives they hold, mostly government officials and Afghan forces, before intra-Afghan negotiations can begin.
However, the Taliban have yet to confirm whether those released so far by the government were among the 5,000 names the insurgents had given US negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad, the architect of the Feb. 29 deal.
A second Taliban official told the AP that those released so far were on the Taliban list of demands, including the uncle of Taliban chief Hibatullah Akhundzada.
Key in deciding which names would appear on the list was Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, a senior figure who recently recovered from COVID-19.
Turabi was the much feared vice and virtue minister during the Taliban rule, known for beating men who were found listening to music or not attending the mosque. He once slapped a Taliban commander who spoke with a female journalist.
Both Taliban officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
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