Afghan authorities release a group of 80 Taliban prisoners saying it would "speed up efforts for direct talks and a lasting, nationwide ceasefire."

In this handout photograph taken on August 13, 2020 and released by Afghanistan's National Security Council (NSC), Taliban prisoners gather as they are in the process of being released from Pul-e-Charkhi prison on Thursday.
In this handout photograph taken on August 13, 2020 and released by Afghanistan's National Security Council (NSC), Taliban prisoners gather as they are in the process of being released from Pul-e-Charkhi prison on Thursday. (AFP)

Afghan authorities have started to release 400 Taliban prisoners, the final hurdle in launching long-delayed peace talks between the two warring sides.

A group of 80 prisoners were released on Thursday, said National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal, tweeting that it would "speed up efforts for direct talks and a lasting, nationwide ceasefire".

Their release was approved at the weekend by a gathering of thousands of prominent Afghans called by President Ashraf Ghani after the authorities initially refused to free the militants, accused of serious crimes including brutal attacks that killed Afghans and foreigners.

Both sides have said they are ready to begin talks in Doha, Qatar, within days of the prisoners being freed.

The prisoners include some 44 insurgents of particular concern to the United States and other countries for their role in high-profile attacks.

READ MORE: Why prisoner exchange is the main sticking point for Afghan peace deal

Released Taliban prisoners 'a danger'

Ghani warned on Thursday that their release was a "danger" to the world.

"Until this issue, there was a consensus on the desirability of peace but not on the cost of it," Ghani said in a videoconference organised by a US think tank.

"We have now paid the major instalment on cost and that means peace will have consequences," he added, noting that the release of "hardened criminals" and drug dealers was "likely to pose a danger both to us and to (America) and to the world".

An Afghan traditional council, known as the Loya Jirga, had agreed last week in Kabul to free the final 400 imprisoned Taliban, paving the way for an early start to negotiations between Afghanistan’s warring sides.

The council agreed to an “immediate” release of Taliban prisoners but by Tuesday, they had not been freed. Negotiations between Kabul’s political leadership and the Taliban are expected to begin within weeks — and will be held in the Mideast state of Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office.

The Taliban said the talks could begin within a week of the final prisoner releases.

RAAD MORE: Why are so many Afghans unsatisfied with peace talks with the Taliban?

'Critical moment'
Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen earlier this week had warned that attacks on newly freed prisoners will drive them back to the battlefield despite orders from their leaders “to stay at home, with their families.”

He said  there have been at least 11 such attacks in the past several months — instances when freed Taliban figures were killed, harassed and re-arrested by government forces.

Kabul officials denied unwarranted attacks on freed Taliban. The prisoner release is part of a deal the insurgents signed with the United States earlier this year.

But he said the moment is critical.
For some it compares after the 9/ 11 attacks, when the 2001 U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban in who had harbored al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Then tens of thousands of Taliban who gave up arms to return to their homes at the time were targeted by Afghan groups and warlords they had once fought seeking revenge. In December, 2001 a convoy of Afghan elders, including former Taliban, were targeted en route to welcome U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai. Many who survived that attack later rejoined the Taliban.

In southern Zabul province, more than 2,000 ethnic Pashtuns, the backbone of the Taliban movement, tried to join the newly formed Afghan army in 2002, only to be humiliated by Kabul government forces.

Most rejoined the Taliban.

“After 2001, when some former Taliban attempted to join the ‘new order,' they were persecuted and humiliated. And some who were just from Taliban areas were accused of being supporters and attacked and driven out of their land,” said Patricia Gossman, Associate Asia director of the Human Rights Watch. “Many eventually joined the insurgency.”

Source: TRTWorld and agencies