Afghanistan’s grand assembly, or Loya Jirga, on Sunday, approved the release of 400 “hard-core” Taliban prisoners, paving the way for the beginning of peace talks aimed at ending more than 19 years of war.
“In order to remove an obstacle, allow the start of the peace process and an end of bloodshed, the Loya Jirga approves the release of 400 Taliban,” the assembly said in a resolution.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had convened the assembly in the capital Kabul, where some 3,200 Afghan community leaders and politicians gathered amid tight security and concerns about the Covid-19 pandemic to advise the government on whether the prisoners should be freed.
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The Taliban militants had insisted they be released as a condition for entering peace talks with the government. With the release, the Afghan government will fulfil its pledge to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners.
Western diplomats said talks between the warring parties will start in Doha this week.
Deliberation around the release of last batch of Taliban prisoners, accused of conducting some of the bloodiest attacks across Afghanistan, had triggered outrage among civilians and rights groups who questioned the morality of the peace process.
But ahead of November elections, U.S. President Donald Trump is determined to fulfil a major campaign promise of ending America’s longest war.
The drawdown will bring the number of U.S. troops to “a number less than 5,000” by the end of November, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in an interview broadcast on Saturday.
In a February pact allowing for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, Washington and the Taliban agreed on the release of the Taliban prisoners as a condition for the talks with Kabul.