Afghanistan to release 400 “hard-core” Taliban prisoners, paving the way for peace amid the two decades of war.
The nations grand assembly called Loya Jirga approved the release, a controversial condition raised by the Taliban militants to join peace talks.
“In order to remove an obstacle, allow the start of the peace process and an end of bloodshed, the Loya Jirga approves the release of 400 Taliban,” the assembly said in a resolution.
Minutes later, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced, “Today, I will sign the release order of these 400 prisoners.”
Last week Ghani invited some 3,200 Afghan community leaders and politicians to Kabul amid tight security and concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, to advise the government on whether the prisoners should be freed.
Among the 400 are Taliban members accused of major attacks against civilians and foreigners, including a 2017 truck bombing near the German embassy in Kabul that killed more than 150.
With the release, the Afghan government will fulfil its pledge to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners.
Talks between the warring Taliban and government will start in Doha this week, Western diplomats said. Ghani appealed to the hardline Islamist group to pledge to a complete ceasefire ahead of talks.
The Taliban have not commented on the decision to release the remaining prisoners.
Deliberation over the release of last batch of Taliban prisoners, accused of conducting some of the bloodiest attacks across Afghanistan, had triggered outrage among civilians and rights groups who questioned the morality of the peace process.
It has also proved wrenching for the families of the more than 100,000 Afghan civilians thought to have been killed or injured in the past decade, more than 10,000 last year alone. The Loya Jirga had urged the government to seek forgiveness from the families for their killers, important under many interpretations of Islamic law.
Ahead of the Loya Jirga, Human Rights Watch cautioned that many of the prisoners had been jailed under “overly broad terrorism laws that provide for indefinite preventive detention”.
US President Donald Trump is under pressure amid the November elections to bring back American troops home. The United States hopes to bring down the ground strength from 8,600 to 5,000 by November.