For the Taliban and Afghan government, prisoner swaps are a litmus test for everyone’s real intentions, even though these dither with the peace process.
As the Taliban and the Afghan government prepares to hold peace talks next month, straight after the Muslim holiday of Eid al Adha, the main matter of negotiation is prisoner swap.
The decision for peace talks came amid the increasing violence in the war-torn country and a desire to end the 19-year-long war.
The Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, said the insurgent group is ready to release all remaining prisoners of the Afghan government before the eve of Eid al-Adha, but only if their detainees are first released by the Afghan government.
2/2— Suhail Shaheen (@suhailshaheen1) July 23, 2020
in case the process of the release of the prisoners is completed.
Why is prisoner swap important for both parties?
For regional experts, prisoner exchange is a litmus test of sorts. Both parties are using it as a device to decipher the other’s intentions.
According to defence analyst and retired Brig. Ali Khail, the two sides continue to struggle with serious "differences over the mechanism of the prison swap coupled with a deep mistrust between the Taliban and the Afghan government".
"Even if you rule out the huge factor of the coronavirus pandemic disrupting everything, the officials in charge in Kabul have no confidence in the Taliban insurgents keeping their word in terms of releasing prisoners or ending violence," Khail told Anadolu Agency.
"That is why the Afghan government is cautiously moving ahead with the process while seeking guarantees from wherever it can".
Firstly, the prisoner exchange deal was signed in February between the Taliban and the US where the Afghan government was not officially involved in the agreement.
According to the agreement, the Afghan government, who were excluded from the US-Taliban deal, was supposed to release nearly 5,000 Taliban fighters; some of them are allegedly involved in violent attacks against civilians. The US negotiators had agreed under the condition of the Taliban releasing 1,000 Afghan security forces in return.
The insurgent group released 861 detainees out of the promised 1,000, while the Afghan government freed around 4,400 and kept some 600.
The reason why the Afghan government refused to free the remaining Taliban inmates, is their involvement in "serious crimes against innocent civilians."
Another reason given were the continuous Taliban attacks that violated the spirit of the US-Taliban agreement.
But a senior Taliban leader, Mohammad Nabi Omari, accused Kabul of using “lame excuses” to “intentionally” delay the prisoner swap.
“Had the issue of prisoner releases been resolved, intra-Afghan negotiations would have started months ago, and we would have possibly agreed on a cease-fire by now,” Omari added.
On Wednesday, Afghan airstrikes against the Taliban, killed eight civilians including children.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy to Afghanistan, said photographs and witness accounts indicated that many civilians, including children, had been killed.
"We urge all sides to contain the violence, protect civilians and show necessary restraint as the start of intra-Afghan negotiations is so close," he said on Twitter.
1/4 The last 24 hours have been very violent in Afghanistan with many losing their lives.— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) July 22, 2020
In Herat, photos and eyewitness accounts suggest many civilians including children are among the victims of an Afghan airstrike. We condemn the attack and support an investigation.