Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has rejected a US-Taliban proposal for the government in Kabul to free more prisoners of the militant group as part of a peace agreement in February, saying his country’s people will not allow a further release of Taliban inmates as the group has failed to fulfill a pledge to reduce its nationwide bloodshed and violence.
Speaking during a trip to the southern Kandahar Province on Thursday, Ghani said the Taliban had destroyed 16 percent of Afghanistan’s wealth in the war last year and that the militant group’s call for the release of more prisoners at this stage was unacceptable.
“Now that they (Taliban) ask for the release of another 2,000 (prisoners), will you allow their release? No!, We saw that the bloodshed did not stop. They must stop the bloodshed so we can talk,” the Afghan president said, addressing the local people.
Ghani underlined that if the Taliban are willing to bring peace and security to the country, they can come to Kandahar to hold talks with the Afghan government’s delegation.
The Afghan president also pointed to the recent attacks by the Taliban in various parts of the southern province and pledged that Afghan security forces would do their utmost to restore security.
Earlier in the week, Afghan officials announced that peace talks between the government and the Taliban militant group are set to resume in early January as the two sides take a break after reaching a preliminary agreement to end the conflict.
Representatives from the government in Kabul and those from the Taliban held the first round of the much-awaited intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha on September 12. The talks are also attended by politicians from Afghanistan, international organizations and the United States.
The talks were set to take place in March, but were repeatedly delayed over a prisoner exchange agreement made as part of a deal between the Taliban and the US.
Under the deal, signed on February 28, the Taliban agreed to halt their attacks on foreign forces in return for the US military’s phased withdrawal from Afghanistan and the prisoner exchange with Kabul.
But official data shows that violence has increased by 70 percent in Afghanistan since the US-Taliban deal.
Top US general presses Taliban to end violence
US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley held unannounced talks with the Taliban negotiators in the Qatari capital Doha, where the militant group has its political office, to press them on a reduction in attacks.
According to a report by the Associated Press (AP), Milley met for about two hours with the Taliban negotiators and on Wednesday flew to Kabul to discuss the process with Ghani.
“The most important part of the discussions that I had with both the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan was the need for an immediate reduction in violence,” Milley told reporters. “Everything else hinges on that.”
The US invaded Afghanistan to overthrow the ruling Taliban regime. US troops were first sent to Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
American forces have remained bogged down in Afghanistan through the presidencies of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now, Donald Trump.