KABUL, Afghanistan—A traditional Afghan council concluded Sunday with hundreds of delegates agreeing to free 400 Taliban members, paving the way for an early start to negotiations between Afghanistans warring sides.
The declaration calls for an immediate start to negotiations and a cease-fire. The move looks to bring the United States a little closer to bringing home its troops and ending its longest military engagement.
No date has been set for the release, but negotiations between Kabuls political leadership and the Taliban are expected to begin as early as next week, and will most likely be held in the Mideast state of Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office.
These Afghan negotiations were laid out in a peace deal signed by the United States and the Taliban in February. At the time of its signing it was touted as Afghanistans best chance at ending decades of war.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani praised delegates for their decision and urged the Taliban to stop fighting.
Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the decision “was a good step, a positive step.” He said negotiations could start within one week of their prisoners being freed.
As for a cease-fire, Shaheen said the Taliban were committed to the deal it struck with the United States, and according to that deal “the cease-fire will be one of the items to be discussed during the intra-Afghan negotiations.”
Later Sunday afternoon, an explosive devise hidden in a cart killed two people in Kabul. The spokesman for the capitals police, Firdus Faramarz, said policemen were trying to remove the device when it exploded. Five police were injured.
A recent spike in violence in Afghanistan has been mostly attributed to an affiliate of the ISIS terrorist group, whom the Taliban are fighting, as are the Afghan government and U.S. forces. Previously, a U.S. Defense Department official who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the subject said Washington considered ISIS its biggest threat in Afghanistan, and wanted a deal that would recruit the Taliban in a coordinated fight against it.
The councils decision to free the Taliban prisoners did not come as a surprise, as delegates were urged by the United States at the start of the council, or jirga, on Friday to take “this difficult action” so negotiations could begin to bring an end to the war.
The U.S.-Taliban deal in February called for the government to free 5,000 prisoners and for the Taliban to free 1,000 government and military personnel in its custody as a goodwill gesture ahead of the start of negotiations.
Kabul balked at the release, but eventually freed all but the last 400. President Ghani said he was not authorized to free these because of the seriousness of their crimes, and asked for the council to decide instead. He did not detail what the 400 were accused of.
Delegates were therefore given the stark choice of either freeing the prisoners or seeing a war that has killed tens of thousands continue. The delegates said they wanted international guarantees Read More – Source