A day later, Afghan peace pact hits snag

Kabul, March 1

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday said he would not free thousands of Taliban prisoners ahead of all-Afghan power-sharing talks set for next week, publicly disagreeing with a timetable for a speedy prisoner release laid out just a day earlier in a US-Taliban peace agreement.

Edit: US-Taliban deal

Ghani’s comments pointed to the first hitch in implementing the fragile deal, which is aimed at ending America’s 18-year war and getting rival Afghan factions to agree on their country’s future.

Still, the US has said a planned US troop withdrawal over the next 14 months is linked to the Taliban’s counter-terrorism performance, not to the progress in intra-Afghan talks.

Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who served as America’s first Ambassador to Afghanistan after the 2001 US invasion, spent the past 17 months running talks with the Taliban to hammer out the agreement. The US-Taliban deal signed on Saturday in Qatar envisions the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government ahead of talks between factions meant to begin on March 10 in the Norwegian capital of Oslo. The Taliban would release up to 1,000 prisoners.

Ghani told a press conference in the Afghan capital of Kabul that this wasn’t a promise the US could make.

He said the release of any prisoner was a decision for his government to take and that he wasn’t ready to release prisoners before the start of negotiations. “The request has been made by the US for the release of prisoners and it can be part of the negotiations, but it cannot be a precondition,” Ghani said. — AP

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