President Ashraf Ghani has shifted his position in the last five months over the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners, a provision in the US-Taliban agreement.
After the peace deal was signed on February 29, President Ghani announced his stance on the following day at a press conference in Kabul, saying: “We have no commitment to release prisoners. We have repeatedly shared this issue with Dr. Khalilzad and all other officials.”
Nine days after this statement, the presidential inauguration was held amid great political tension. Many of the foreign guests, especially US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, attended the inauguration. At this point Ghani’s public stance shifted on the prisoner release.
“I will issue a decree that will include the details of this process (prisoners release). Fortunately we have reached a framework where there will be a considerable reduction in violence in exchange for a prisoner release,” Ghani said.
Earlier, the Presidential Palace called the release of Anas Haqqani a red line, but it nevertheless released Anas Haqqani, Mali Khan and Hafiz Rasheed, three key Taliban prisoners.
“Anas Haqqani is the red line for the Afghan people and the Afghan government,” presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told TOLOnews on October 29, 2019.
The release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners continued in at least four phases and finally the government announced its opposition to the release of 400 prisoners. President Ghani during his Eid speech on July 31 said he will call for a Loya Jirga, a grand assembly, to decide on the release of the 400 prisoners.
“I don’t have the authority to release them (the 400 prisoners). I should consult with the nation and I call for consultative Loya Jirga to consult on the 400 prisoners’ fate,” Ghani said.
The Jirga simply approved the release of the prisoners and called on the Taliban to agree on a ceasefire and start the intra-Afghan negotiations.
“With your moral decision and consensus, I will sign the order for their (400 prisoners) release and I will release them,” Ghani said on August 9.
Some political analysts said that the change in the president’s stance on the release of Taliban prisoners is concerning.
“His (Ghani’s) personality is like this. It is called a strong personality in English, about one who is always in conflict with others,” said Qamaruddin Jabbarkhil, an international affairs analyst.
“First, he is trying to get the advantage, second, he wants to prolong his tenure in office, and third, he is trying to prove to the intentional community that he is moving forward academically,” said Mahmoud Marhoon, a university lecturer.
Meanwhile, the Taliban has not shown flexibility in its stance on the prisoners and has repeatedly insisted on the release of the inmates on a list given by the group to the government.