US agreement in Afghanistan reaches the first obstacle, Ghani says he has not pledged to release 5000 Taliban prisoners

ISLAMABAD: The peace between the United States and the Taliban hit their first obstacle with Afghan President Dr. Ashraf Ghani on Sunday saying his government did not commit to the release of 5,000 insurgent prisoners, one of the key components of the peace agreement signed in Doha in Qatar on Saturday amid the presence of representatives from several countries.

According to the US-Taliban agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners should be released by March 10 in order to facilitate the intra-Afghan negotiations. March 10 has been slated as a date for commencement of the intra-Afghan dialogue, involving Taliban, a delegation of Afghan government and representatives of the Afghan society, reportedly in Oslo. The Taliban would release up to 1,000 prisoners. Until recently, the Taliban had refused to speak to the Western-backed Afghan government , saying it was a “puppet regime”.

America He said that a planned withdrawal of US troops over the next 14 months is related to the Taliban’s anti-terrorist performance, not to progress in intra-Afghan talks.

At a press conference in Kabul, the Afghan president criticized the agreement between the United States and the Taliban and said that an agreement signed behind closed doors will have basic problems for implementation tomorrow.

Ghani said that was not authorised to speak, discuss or agree with Taliban on release of prisoners. “Any prisoner release is not in the authority of the US. It is the authority of the government of Afghanistan to make any such decision,” Ghani said, adding that there was no commitment to the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners.

Ghani said the release of prisoners cannot be considered a precondition for intra-Afghan talks. It may be part of the negotiations, he said.

Speaking about the negotiating team, which will attend the intra-Afghan negotiations, Ghani said the government ’s delegation will represent Afghanistan’s basic values. “The effectiveness of the team should be considered when it comes to the number of its members,” he said. Ghani also clarified that the authority of government ’s negotiating team would be limited.

The delegation's authority is limited because the top decision maker, according to the constitution, is the parliament or Loya Jirga (Great Council) of Afghanistan or a referendum, the Afghan president said.

When asked if he could announce a negotiating team before March 10, Ghani said discussions about a negotiating team have already begun and will be formed in the next nine days.

Ghani also stressed the importance of maintaining the system of the republic in Afghanistan. There is a clear need for everyone to focus on the republic, not the presidency, when it comes to talks with the Taliban, he said.

The president expected the reduction of violence to become a ceasefire.

A week-long reduction in violence between the Taliban, US and Afghan security forces saw a sudden drop in violence and casualties across the country after it took effect on February 22.

The agreement between the United States and the Taliban is considered a historic opportunity to get the United States out of Afghanistan, a nation convulsed by the conflict since the Soviet Invasion in December 1979. However, it could also be quickly undone, particularly if the Taliban do not fulfill the promise that terrorist attacks will not be launched from Afghan soil.

The intra-Afghan talks between squabbling political factions and rival Taliban in Afghanistan are even more intricate - even if a potential failure might not slow the withdrawal of America n forces.

In an interview with , Qatar i foreign minister Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said he considered a prisoner exchange an important confidence-building measure. “Everything is interconnected,” he said on Sunday about the agreement’s 14-month time-frame.

The exchange of prisoners will be one of the first confidence-building measures, so it will continue to be a very critical step that we must push forward, he added.

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