Afghan president rejects calls for release of Taliban prisoners
Says partial truce to continue with 'full ceasefire' goal
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Sunday that a seven-day partial truce would continue, but he rejected a key component of a new US-Taliban deal that calls for the release of thousands of insurgent prisoners.
The so-called "reduction in violence" period, which saw attacks plummet across Afghanistan, ran for the week preceding Saturday's signing of a historic accord between the US and the Taliban in Doha.
The agreement spells out a withdrawal timeline of 14 months for all foreign forces, provided the Taliban honour several pledges and enter talks with Kabul for a more comprehensive peace deal.
"The reduction in violence will continue with a goal to reach a full ceasefire," Ghani told a press conference. "General (Scott) Miller has told the 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.
The partial truce saw scenes of jubilant Afghans dancing in the street as hopes rose that Afghanistan's 18-year-old war might finally come to an end.
But in a sign of the bumpy road ahead, Ghani pushed back against a clause in the deal that calls for the Taliban to release up to 1,000 prisoners and for the Afghan government to release around 5,000 insurgent captives.
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."
- 'More relaxed' -
The Taliban had, until now, refused to negotiate with Ghani's administration -- which they considered a US puppet regime - but the withdrawal agreement hinges on Kabul and the insurgents reaching a separate peace deal through "intra-Afghan" negotiations.
Ghani, who is mired in a political crisis following fraud allegations over his re-election, was referring to upcoming talks slated to start March 10, reportedly in Oslo.
Ghani's questioning of the prisoner release points to tough negotiations ahead in a country still riven by tribal and ethnic rivalries, and where squabbling leaders and warlords seem incapable of finding common ground on important issues.
Washington has pointedly not congratulated Ghani on his election win, announced last week after months of delays, while his top rival Abdullah Abdullah has vowed to set up a parallel administration.
Despite lingering uncertainty about what the deal means for Afghanistan, Kabul residents said they were relieved to walk the streets without fear of Taliban attacks.
"I feel much more at peace today after the deal, more relaxed," one policeman told AFP on condition of anonymity.