This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
The Taliban has rejected a Ramadan cease-fire offer from the Afghan government, saying such a move is “not rational” amid disagreements over the peace process.
The offer was made by President Ashraf Ghani on April 23 ahead of the start of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan as Afghanistan battles the growing coronavirus pandemic.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen rejected the offer, saying the militants will keep fighting because of the ongoing disagreements with the government over a potential peace deal as well as a delayed prisoner exchange.
“Asking for cease-fire is not rational and convincing,” Shaheen wrote on Twitter late on April 23 as he accused the government of putting prisoners’ lives at risk during the pandemic.
The Government has released 550 Taliban prisoners from 18 provinces under the presidential decree of March 11. As per the decree, releases will continue across other prisons to free a total of 1,500 as part of our efforts to advance peace and fight #COVID19. pic.twitter.com/sC0yqvaBD0
— Office of the National Security Council (@NSCAfghan) April 24, 2020
NATO chided the group, saying that “the current level of violence caused by the Taliban is not acceptable,” while calling for the militants to join peace talks and speed up prisoner releases.
“We welcome the establishment of an inclusive negotiating team to represent the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. We call on the Taliban to enter negotiations with this team without further delay, which is considered a key element of the U.S.-Taliban agreement,” alliance ambassadors in NATO’s North Atlantic Council said in a statement.
They added that both sides should demonstrate goodwill by accelerating the release of prisoners and embrace “an immediate humanitarian cease-fire.”
A landmark deal signed by the United States and the Taliban on February 29 calls for the Afghan government to release thousands of Taliban fighters as a confidence-building measure ahead of formal peace talks aimed at ending the 18-year conflict in Afghanistan.
The Western-backed government in Kabul has released 550 Taliban inmates since April 8, while the militants have freed 60 Afghan security and defense personnel they were holding.
“Releases will continue across other prisons to free a total of 1,500 as part of our efforts to advance peace and fight #COVID19,” Afghanistan’s National Security Council tweeted on April 24.
The militant group has pledged to release some 1,000 Afghan government troops and civilian workers it is holding.
The prisoner swap was scheduled to be completed by March 10, before the start of intra-Afghan peace talks, but it has been delayed by disputes between the sides.
Meanwhile, deadly fighting has continued across Afghanistan since the U.S.-Taliban deal was inked in Doha, Qatar.
Afghan authorities have reported more than 1,270 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, including 42 deaths.
Authorities have released thousands of detainees, mostly women, juveniles, and sick people, to reduce the risk of the coronavirus spreading in prisons.