ISLAMABAD - Pakistan Sunday welcomed the Afghan Loya Jirga’s recommendation to release remaining 400 Taliban prisoners.

Pakistan has repeatedly emphasized that the Afghan leaders must seize this historic opportunity and work together constructively through Intra-Afghan Negotiations to secure a comprehensive, broad-based and inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan.

“We hope that with the implementation of this step relating to the prisoners’ release, as envisaged in the US-Taliban Peace Agreement, the intra-Afghan negotiations will commence at the earliest,” said a foreign ministry statement.

It said the international community must also reinforce its support for the success of intra-Afghan negotiations for sustained and durable peace and stability in Afghanistan.  

Yesterday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he will approve the release of 400 jailed Taliban militants in the final part of a prisoner swap meant to clear the way for the start of intra-Afghan peace talks with the Taliban.

Ghani announced his intention to release the prisoners and militants, shortly after the move was recommended by 3,400 prominent Afghans at a three-day Loya Jirga in Kabul. “Today, I will sign a decree that I wouldn’t be able to sign in a lifetime, because it was beyond my authority,” Ghani told the Loya Jirga after its August 9 vote on the resolution. “Now, based on your consensus and your moral decision, I will sign the decree on releasing the 400 prisoners and release them.” 

Head of the Loya Jirga, Abdullah Abdullah, said the Loya Jirga’s August 9 resolution removed the last remaining obstacle to the beginning of talks between the Afghan government and Taliban representatives under the format of intra-Afghan talks.

Afghanistan’s former president, Hamid Karzai, who was present at the Loya Jirga, said that he expects an Afghan team to start negotiating with the Taliban within two or three days of the prisoners’ release.

The Afghan delegation is to be led by the former head of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, Masoom Stanakzai. The delegation will include Afghan politicians, former officials, and representatives of civil society. Kabul has previously said that five members of the delegation would be women.

 

Abdullah, who is also head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, has previously said that the first round of the talks would begin in Qatar’s capital, Doha, where the Taliban maintain a political office.

 

The resolution recommending the release of the Taliban prisoners was passed at the end of the three-day Loya Jirga in Kabul - a traditional meeting of Afghan tribal elders and other stakeholders convened to decide on controversial national issues.

 

President Ghani had called for the gathering, declaring that he did not have the authority under Afghanistan’s constitution to release the 400 prisoners from Afghan jails as part of a prisoners swap because they had committed crimes.

 

“In order to remove the hurdles for the start of peace talks, stopping bloodshed, and for the good of the public, the Loya Jirga approves the release of 400 prisoners as demanded by the Taliban,” Loya Jirga member Atefa Tayeb announced at the gathering in Kabul on August 9.

 

Both the Afghan government and the Taliban have committed to completing a prisoner exchange before the intra-Afghan talks can begin.

 

For its part, Pakistan has consistently supported an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process. Pakistan’s positive contribution to the process is internationally recognized.

 

Pakistan reaffirmed its support for a peaceful, stable, united, democratic, sovereign and prosperous Afghanistan, at peace with itself and with its neighbours.