Afghanistan begins releasing final Taliban prisoners considered 'danger to the world'

Ben Farmer
·2 min read
Taliban prisoners are released from Pul-e-Charkhi jail in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. - AP
Taliban prisoners are released from Pul-e-Charkhi jail in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. - AP

Afghanistan has released the first batch of the final 400-strong tranche of Taliban prisoners due to be freed to pave the way for negotiations between the warring sides.

The high-security prisoners reportedly include hardcore militants accused of some of the most heinous crimes of the recent conflict and who pose a danger to the world, the Afghan president has said.

Disagreement over whether they should be freed held up the search for peace until Ashraf Ghani convened a traditional council of leaders to gain consensus on their fate.

"The government ... yesterday released 80 Taliban convicts out of the 400 that the Consultative Loya Jirga sanctioned for release to speed up efforts for direct talks and a lasting, nationwide ceasefire," said Javid Faisal, spokesman for the National Security Council.

The Taliban have said they will not begin official talks with Mr Ghani's government until a total of 5,000 of their prisoners have been released, as outlined in a February deal reached for America to withdraw its troops. The final 400 represent the most dangerous and controversial of that list.

The Afghan government has refused to release a full list of the Taliban convicts, but it is reported to contain the culprits behind several suicide bombings in Kabul. Others are thought to be significant opium and heroin traffickers. Australia has lobbied Kabul not to release one of the prisoners, who is thought to be a rogue Afghan soldier who shot dead three Australian troops in 2012.

Mr Ghani said this week that the releases were the price of peace.

He said those on the list were likely “to pose a danger both to us and to [America] and the world”.

While the foes have haggled over prisoners, American troops have pulled out of bases at speed, driven by Donald Trump's desire to end US military involvement in the country. By November, fewer than 5,000 troops are expected to still be in Afghanistan down from nearly 13,000 when the US-Taliban agreement was signed on February 29.

If the remaining prisoners are freed quickly, talks between Afghan government and Taliban negotiators could begin in Qatar by the end of the month. Those talks to reach an agreement on how Afghanistan can be governed and how the Taliban might somehow share power are likely to be lengthy and bumpy, diplomats warn.