Afghan President Ashraf Ghani breaks silence over reports of release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani breaks silence over reports of release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners

KABUL - Afghan President Ashraf Ghani breaks silence over reports of release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners after the historic peace deal with the United States.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani pushed back Sunday against a key component of the US-Taliban deal signed a day earlier, saying he had not committed to releasing any insurgent prisoners.

“There is no commitment to releasing 5,000 prisoners,” Ghani told a press conference.

“This is the right and the self-will of the people of Afghanistan. It could be included in the agenda of the intra-Afghan talks, but cannot be a prerequisite for talks.

“General (Scott) Miller has told Taliban to do so. It is expected (to continue),” he added, referring to the US commander in charge of foreign forces in Afghanistan.

A Taliban source did not immediately comment.

Ghani’s government was not part of the Doha accord, so while the agreement states that the “United States commits to completing this goal” of releasing the Taliban prisoners, it is unclear how that can happen if Kabul is not on board.

Any prisoner release is “not in the authority of the US, it is in the authority of the Afghan government”, Ghani said.

“It could be included in the agenda of the intra-Afghan talks, but cannot be a prerequisite for talks.”

US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar signed the agreement during a ceremony in Dohar, Qatar on Saturday.

The signing ceremony was witnessed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Qatari Emir and representatives from fifty countries.

According to a joint declaration released minutes before the deal was signed, the US and NATO troops will withdraw from Afghanistan within 14 months.

The United States will reduce the number of US military forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 and implement other commitments in the US-Taliban agreement within 135 days of the announcement of this joint declaration and the US-Taliban agreement.