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Afghan government postpones plan to release Taliban prisoners

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the 2014 London Conference on Afghanistan, co-hosted by the governments of the UK and Afghanistan. (DFID - UK Department for International Development/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Afghan authorities say they have delayed the release of 1,500 Taliban prisoners, throwing a precarious peace process into deeper crisis.

Jawed Faisal, a spokesman for the Afghan National-Security Adviser’s office, said on March 14 that the government needed more time to review the list of the prisoners.

“We have received the lists of the prisoners to be released. We are checking and verifying the lists, this will take time,” Faisal said. He also said the authorities “want guarantees that they will not return to fighting.”

There was no immediate response from the militant group to the delayed prisoner release.

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The announcement came despite President Ashraf Ghani’s decree on March 11 promising the start of the releases on March 14 as a “goodwill gesture” to get intra-Afghan talks started.

The Taliban promised to begin talks with the Afghan government as part of a deal reached with the United States last month.

The U.S.-Taliban deal called for the release of up to 5,000 Taliban as well as 1,000 Afghan government captives ahead of intra-Afghan talks.

Ghani’s decree promised the release of 100 prisoners a day beginning on March 14 until 1,500 prisoners were released. The government would then free the remaining 3,500 after intra-Afghan talks began and the militants reduced violence.

The Taliban said the group was committed to the U.S.-Taliban deal, but would not start negotiations with the Afghan government until 5,000 Taliban prisoners were freed.