US envoy says Kabul, Taliban hold first prisoner exchange talks

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The Afghan government and the Taliban on Sunday held their first discussion on arranging prisoner exchanges, the US special envoy for Afghanistan said on Twitter.

“Today, the US and Qatar facilitated the first Afghan government to Taliban technical talks on prisoner releases, via Skype video conferencing,” Zalmay Khalilzad said.

He had said on Wednesday that it was “urgent” to quickly conclude plans for such exchanges - as called for in a historic US pact with the Taliban - as the coronavirus pandemic was complicating diplomatic contacts.

The agreement, signed by Khalilzad and a Taliban official on February 29 in Doha, laid a framework for bringing to an end America’s longest war, begun after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

It calls notably for the liberation of up to 5,000 Taliban fighters held by Kabul, and up to 1,000 members of the Afghan government forces in insurgent hands.

That was meant to take place before the start of inter-Afghan peace negotiations, originally set for March 10.

But the Afghan government, which was not involved in the American-Taliban talks, initially refused before finally saying it would consent to gradual and conditional prisoner releases.

The Taliban in turn rejected that proposal, and the talks with the government have yet to begin.
The Doha accord calls for the gradual withdrawal of American and other foreign troops over a 14-month period, the first phase of which has already begun.

In exchange, the Taliban committed to continue fighting against terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and promised to negotiate for the first time with Kabul.


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