Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday again refused to accept the release of thousands of Taliban prisoners as a precondition for talks with the militant group, in a move that was likely to delay intra-Afghan peace negotiations set for March 10 Addressing the country's Parliament, Ghani said the prisoner release arrangement in the deal between the US and the Taliban was untimely and cannot be a condition for beginning intra-Afghan negotiations, reports Efe news.
"We call the Taliban's request for the release of 5,000 prisoners as premature to the beginning of the negotiations," Ghani said in the televised address. "As President of Afghanistan, I don't like to have a Taliban prisoner. But their release should be based on a transparent process and a clear mechanism."
He said there was a need for a guarantee and the Afghans must be ensured that the Taliban, after the release of their leaders, would implement "a full ceasefire" and that they won't return to the battlefield.
"A nationwide ceasefire is the demand of every citizen," he said.
The President had publicly turned down the plan of prisoner swap set out in the landmark US-Taliban deal signed on February 29 in Doha, aimed at beginning intra-Afghan talks and ending decades of the Afghan war.
But, he said, the government's delegation would defend the "democratic values" of the country in talks with the hardline Islamist militant group.
The Taliban have said they would not talk with the government unless its prisoners are set free as was agreed in the deal with Washington.
"If the prisoners are released, the Islamic Emirate is then ready for the intra-Afghan negotiations on Mar. 10," Taliban spokesperson in Qatar, Suhail Shaheen, tweeted on Friday.
He said the government would be responsible for any delay in talks.
Ghani's insistence on not releasing jailed Taliban leaders comes days after the US said it was committed to facilitating prisoner swap under the peace agreement with the insurgents
US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who signed the peace deal with the Taliban on behalf of America in Doha, said the prisoner release clause was agreed in both the US-Taliban Agreement and the US-Afghanistan Joint Declaration.
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