Pompeo, Taliban leader take up intra-Afghan talks

By: News Desk      Published: 11:55 AM, 4 Aug, 2020
Pompeo, Taliban leader take up intra-Afghan talks

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Taliban deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar discussed the start of the intra-Afghan talks and the ongoing situation in Afghanistan.

According to Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, in the discussion held via video call, the two leaders called the release of the remaining Taliban prisoners important.

Shaheen was also quoted as saying that the US secretary of state also welcomed the Eid ceasefire.

The United States had welcomed the Taliban's declaration of a three-day ceasefire for Eidul Azha, acting US Ambassador to Kabul Ross Wilson had said in a tweet on Tuesday.

"I welcome the announcements of an Eid ceasefire: Afghans deserve to celebrate the holiday in peace. I look forward to both sides fulfilling their commitments and moving quickly to intra-Afghan negotiations," Wilson posted on Twitter.

The Taliban want the prisoners freed before they join talks with government officials and other Afghans on a political settlement to decades of war.

The State Department told VOA it declined to comment.

"Both sides talked about the inception of intra-Afghan negotiations" and they "emphasized that the release of the remaining prisoners are essential for commencement of intra-Afghan negotiations," Shaheen wrote.

The meeting between Pompeo and Baradar, the Taliban's Doha-based deputy leader, came as Afghan security forces ended a siege of a major prison in eastern Afghanistan by Islamic State militants in which hundreds of prisoners escaped.

It was not immediately known if the escapees included any of the prisoners whose release the Taliban are demanding.

The release of the Taliban prisoners has become a major hurdle to the convening of intra-Afghan peace talks, which were to have started by March 10.

A Feb 29 US-Taliban agreement for a US troop withdrawal called for Kabul to free up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners in return for the release by the insurgents of up to 1,000 government detainees.

The Taliban have released around 1,000 detainees. The Afghan government, under US pressure, has freed around 4,600 Taliban prisoners named on a list compiled by the insurgents.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, however, is resisting freeing the remaining 400 named on the list, contending they were involved in serious crimes, including a massive 2017 bombing against the German embassy and other bloody attacks.

Instead, Ghani is expected to release 500 prisoners who are not on the list, and has called a traditional assembly of tribal elders from across the country - known as a loya jirga - to consult on whether to free those remaining on the list. The assembly is expected to be held later this month.