Taliban expects Afghan govt to start prisoner release by end of March

The Afghan government has said it will free 100 Taliban detainees on humanitarian grounds at the end of March. The move raises uncertainty about the fate of a prisoner release deal with the insurgents, who have demanded that 5,000 detainees be freed.

The number announced on Wednesday is also far less than the 1,500 prisoners that Ashraf Ghani recently agreed to release. The Taliban has demanded that 5,000 detainees be freed all at once as a precondition to peace talks, while the Afghan government is seeking a phased and conditional release.

A deal the insurgents signed with the US in Doha last month for a US troop withdrawal specified the freeing of up to 5,000 prisoners by March 10. Kabul was not a party to the Doha accord, which also requires the Taliban to free up to 1,000 prisoners.

A Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, tweeted that the two Afghan sides had agreed “that the release of the prisoners will practically start by the end of March,” Reuters reported.