The Afghan President Ashraf Ghani agreed to release 400 Taliban prisoners after the “Great Council,” or the Loya Jirga, an assembly of some 3,200 Afghan leaders, including politicians, sages, and senior community members, passed a resolution to approve their release, Sunday, August 9. This decision was a fundamental starting point for inter-Afghan peace negotiations between the government and the Taliban to end hostilities in the country.
A member of the Loya Jirga, Atefa Tayeb, announced the decision, arguing that it was necessary to remove obstacles to the beginning of the political dialogue and to stop the bloodshed in the country, in consideration of the good of its population.
The assembly also called for international guarantees that the released Taliban to not return to the battlefield. The members of the Loya Jirga had gathered in Kabul as early as August 7, to decide whether to release the last 400 prisoners of the armed group, accused of several crimes.
On February 29, in Doha, Qatar, the United States and the Taliban signed a peace agreement, according to which Washington will reduce its troops in Afghanistan from 13,000 to 8,600 within the first 135 days following the signing of the deal and will complete the total withdrawal within 14 months from the same date. Furthermore, on the same occasion, the US had negotiated with the Taliban the release of 5,000 prisoners affiliated with them from Afghan prisons, as a precondition for the group’s participation in peace talks with the Kabul government.
Before the decision of last Sunday, the Afghan government had released 4,600 Taliban. The release of the latest 400 required the approval of the LoyaGirga, as they were people convicted of carrying out, for example, murders involving the 2 to 40 people, for being involved in drug trafficking and for committing other serious crimes.
Among the 400 people in question, Afghani authorities sentenced 150 to death, and 44 were reportedly involved in “other profile” attacks, which had also raised concerns in the US and other Western countries.
The US secretary of state had encouraged the release of the 400 Taliban while admitting that it would be an unpopular decision. The administration of the US President, Donald Trump, is determined to reduce the country’s increased military commitment abroad, because of the upcoming elections for the leadership of the White House. US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper confirmed on August 9 that by the end of November 2020, the month in which Washington’s presidential elections fall, the number of troops engaged in Afghanistan will be reduced to fewer than 5,000.
According to some Western diplomats, intra-Afghan negotiations should start this week in Doha. President Ghani has appealed to the Taliban to expect a total ceasefire before the ‘meeting. In 2019, over 10,000 people lost their lives in Afghanistan due to the ongoing conflict, which started in 2001. In the last decade, the victims were 100,000 victims.
After the end of the Soviet Union’s rule in Afghanistan, which lasted from 1979 to 1989, the country has experienced great divisions. In 1996 the Taliban had control of a large part of the country, obtained following a bloody civil war fought against the various local factions. In 2001, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the US attacked Afghanistan. Because from there, Al-Qaeda planned the attacks on the United States. Osama bin Laden, under the protection of the Taliban, was also hiding in Afghanistan. A total of 2,300 US soldiers lost their lives in Afghanistan and 20,000 wounded.
In 2003, NATO also intervened, decimating the presence of Islamic extremists in the Afghan territory and relegating the Taliban to some strongholds. From here, they have carried out numerous operations to destabilize the government of Kabul in an attempt to regain their control over the national territory.