- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Afghan government is delaying a plan to release 1,500 Taliban prisoners, a move that could wreck a peace deal that the armed group and the United States signed last month.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued a declaration Wednesday promising to release the prisoners as a goodwill gesture to get the negotiations on track and keep them moving. The deal has been sold to the public as the best plan to end the conflict and bring American troops home after nearly 20 years.

Javid Faisal, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Security Council, told reporters that the release would be delayed so government officials could review the list of Taliban prisoners. Mr. Ghani issued a decree ordering the release of 1,500 Taliban fighters as the first of two phases of releasing 5,000 as the militant group demanded.

“The Taliban have to show flexibility,” Mr. Faisal said, according to the Al-Jazeera news channel. “We are ready to start the process the way it is described in the presidential decree, but we won’t release anyone if there is no guarantee that they will not return to fighting.”

The Taliban did not respond but has said there would be no talks until all of the prisoners are released, The Associated Press reported.

Mr. Faisal said it is up to the Taliban to decide whether to be “part of the problem or part of the solution.” He said the Afghan government has been skeptical of their intentions from the beginning.

“We proposed a mechanism for the peace process to move forward. Taliban will have to work with us to find a solution, get their prisoners released and push for peace,” he said in a Twitter post.

During the discussions in Qatar, the Taliban gave American negotiators a list of 5,000 prisoners they wanted released. The list was delivered to Afghan government officials.

“They opposed a national demand for cease-fire, attacked Afghans during the week of reduction in violence and dishonored their Doha agreements with increased violence. Excuse after excuse won’t take us to peace,” Mr. Faisal tweeted.

The Afghan government said any prisoners it releases must first give written guarantees not to return to the battlefield.

Under the agreement, U.S. and other outside military forces would leave Afghanistan within 14 months in exchange for security guarantees from the Taliban and their agreement to have talks with Afghan officials in Kabul.

The Taliban have said they are committed to the deal they made with the United States but refused to negotiate with Afghan government officials until all of the prisoners on their list are freed.

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