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Afghanistan: ‘Release of prisoners essential to move ahead’

In an interview Taliban leader Shaheen recalls journey of talks, pitfalls of translation, tension replacing reconciliation

Islamuddin Sajid   | 02.03.2020
Afghanistan: ‘Release of prisoners essential to move ahead’

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan 

Fresh from striking a peace deal with the U.S. Afghan Taliban on Monday said that the release of prisoners was essential and described it a first step towards building confidence to move ahead on other aspects of the peace process.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Suhail Shaheen, Taliban political spokesman said that tactics to delay the release of prisoners will have cascading effects on other commitments.

"As per the agreement, both sides would release the prisoners till March 10. We are committed to our promise to release Afghan soldiers and police personnel. The U.S. is obliged to free our 5,000 prisoners,” said Shaheen.

He said that any delay in the release of prisoners will mean delaying other commitments that included the start of the intra-Afghan dialogue.

Shaheen was referring to the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s statement, that his government had not made any commitment to the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners.

“The release of detainees is not in the domain of the U.S. Only the Afghan government has that authority,” Ghani said at a press conference in the capital Kabul on Sunday.

However, the Taliban political spokesman clarified that his group has signed the peace agreement with Washington and was expecting the U.S. to implement its commitments.

"We heard from media that Kabul authorities want to delay the release of prisoners which is part of our agreement. But I want to make it clear that intra-Afghan dialogue would take place only after the release of prisoners," he said.

'We have no issue with any country'

Responding to a question regarding India, where apprehensions are being raised about the peace deal, Shaheen said the Taliban has no issue with any country and want to work with all to bring sustainable peace and development in Afghanistan.

"We have no issue with any country, neither want to have an issue with anyone, we want to establish good relations with all countries and work with them together in the reconstruction process of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of foreign forces," he added.

However, he emphasized that those who did not welcome the peace agreement have only exposed themselves that they do not want peace in Afghanistan.

“They have to reconsider their policy,” the Taliban spokesman added.

Shaheen described the peace agreement a step forward toward peace in Afghanistan and said the whole Afghan nation is happy on this landmark achievement.

"We are very happy having successfully concluded the peace agreement. As per the agreement the U.S. and NATO forces would leave the country within 14 months. The occupation of Afghanistan will end,” Shaheen said.

The landmark peace deal between the Washington and Taliban signed in Doha on Saturday has laid out a timetable for a complete withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

"We always supported peaceful ways to end the long conflict and find out a durable solution to the Afghan issue. We will now follow our commitment that we made in the peace agreement," Shaheen said

Ball in the court of Washington

Responding to a question regarding U.S. commitment and implementation of their part, Shaheen said it is now up to Washington if they want peace to restore in Afghanistan or return to conflict.

"Our Mujahideen are still in their barracks. This [peace agreement] is the way to bring peace in Afghanistan. If anyone wants to use force then we also have the right to defend our country," said Taliban Spokesman Shaheen.

Asked about U.S. President Donald Trump’s statement about his expected meeting with Taliban leaders shortly, Shaheen said the U.S. so far has not extended any fresh invitation to them.

"So far we have not received an invitation. When we will receive the invitation then we will decide who will meet President Trump,” he said. Shaheen reminded that their group had received an invitation to visit Washington last year to meet President Trump. But that did not happen due to several reasons.

Shaheen the location of the intra-Afghan dialogue was still under discussion and no final decision has taken place. Media reporters earlier had suggested that Norwegian capital Oslo has been selected to host intra-Afghan talks.

"We have not decided it yet, today we are gathering to discuss the possible location,” he said.

According to the Taliban 27 countries had sent their representatives to attend the agreement-signing ceremony that was held in Doha on Saturday.

"There is no guarantor in the peace agreement. But there were witnesses like Russia, China, Turkey, and 27 other countries," said Shaheen, when asked about the guarantors.

Initially, atmosphere in the room was tense

Last year U.S. and Taliban had begun the formal negotiations in Doha, the capital's city of Qatar. During the past year, several rounds of talks were held between the U.S. officials led by its top negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban team headed by their chief negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai.

Recalling the progress of talks, Shaheen said initially the atmosphere during the meetings used to be tense, as both sides were not familiar with each other. He said the soon atmosphere turned friendly.

He said at times definition of words and their translation from Pashto to English took several hours. Both sides had agreed that the language of communication will be English and Pashto. Therefore, many translators were employed to translate statements and conversations accurately.

Taliban spokesman praised the role played by Qatar and Pakistan during the tough negotiation process in Doha.

"I appreciate the role of Qatar, who not only provided us space for a political office but also welcomed our families and they facilitated the whole process of negotiation," Shaheen said.

"We also accept the role played by Pakistan, was very positive and important to toward peace in Afghanistan," he said.

He said whenever, differences cropped up during the process of talks, Qatar used to find ways out of difficulties.

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