After three days of deliberation, the elders approved the release of the 400 militant prisoners on Sunday.
Former president Hamid Karzai told the convention, “This is a very happy day. Based on the information I have, the intra-Afghan talks would begin within two to three days after the release of the 400 Taliban prisoners.”
Chief negotiator Abdullah Abdullah, who is the head of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), said, “The decision of the Loya Jirga has removed the last excuse and obstacles on the way to peace talks. We are on the verge of peace talks.”
Kabul and the Afghan Taliban have been involved in a prisoner exchange for a couple of months. The prisoner swap was an Afghan government obligation under a deal between the United States and the Taliban that was struck in February. Kabul was excluded from the talks, and the obligation was imposed on it.
The exchange has been regarded as a first step toward broader talks between the government and the Taliban. The prospect of the talks was dimmed after Kabul refused to free hundreds of inmates involved in serious crimes. Last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he had “no authority” under the country’s constitution to release the remaining inmates because of their involvement in serious crimes. Ghani said the decision on the release of those militants had to be made by the Loya Jirga.
Under the deal with the Taliban, the US will start a phased withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan. US Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced on Saturday that a sizable number of US troops would be pulled out of Afghanistan before the end of November.
The United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled a Taliban regime in 2001 under the pretext of fighting terrorism following the September 11 attacks.
Official data shows that bombings and other assaults by the Taliban have surged 70 percent since the militant group signed the deal with the United States.