The government of Afghanistan on Thursday freed 100 Taliban prisoners, in a move that marks an initial step towards a peace agreement with the two sides.
The release comes just two days after the Taliban claimed it had broken off peace talks with the Afghan government after disputes over an expected prisoner swap.
“The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan released 100 Taliban prisoners today based on their health condition, age and length of remaining sentence, as part of our efforts for peace,” Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council, said Thursday.
Days earlier, a Taliban spokesperson said that the militant group would not participate in “fruitless” meetings with the Afghan government due to a disagreement over the release of prisoners.
Experts feared that suspending the highly anticipated talks could lead to a surge in violence and threaten the U.S.’ plan to withdraw troops after 18 years of involvement as part of an agreement sealed earlier this year between the U.S. and Taliban. But Thursday’s prisoner release marks a significant first move in a potential peace agreement.
Up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners were expected to be released under the landmark peace deal with the U.S., but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani refused to release the prisoners claiming he had not agreed to such a deal. He instead offered to conditionally release 1,500 prisoners.
The Feb. 29 U.S.-Taliban agreement called for the militant group and the Kabul government to start direct talks and a prisoner release, which had been slated for March 31.