The Decision to Release 7 Thousand Taliban Prisoners left to Istanbul Conference

Abdul Ahmad Hussaini

As the Istanbul Conference approaches, informed sources in the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) say that the Taliban intend to participate in the conference in exchange for the release of 7,000 prisoners and the removal of their leaders from the UN blacklist. Although the issue was raised at an extended troika meeting, Russia has opposed it, saying the United States alone does not have the authority to do so. According to Russian officials, this issue should be discussed at the UN Security Council. However, Zalmai Khalilzad, in a meeting with the leadership of the HCNR, said that the release of 7,000 Taliban prisoners would be discussed at the Istanbul Conference. The US Special Envoy for Afghanistan has also stated that an agreement with the Taliban requires a political consensus. Sources in HCNR, however, say that the Presidential Palace is not interested in this consensus. On the other hand, the informed source states that the Taliban will wait until the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and will not accept any political agreement despite participating in the meetings on peace in Afghanistan. Earlier, the Taliban announced that it would not participate in any peace talks until the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

With the announcement of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, hopes for an Istanbul Conference have turned to despair. Criticizing the US decision, the Taliban said it would not attend any talks on Afghanistan. Zalmia Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan, is now embarking on a new round of travel to try to persuade the group to attend the Istanbul Conference. Mr. Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Monday, May 3, to meet with President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, Chairperson of the High Council for Reconciliation. An informed source who was present during the meetings told 8 Subh that Khalilzad discussed peace and the holding of the Istanbul Conference during the trip. According to the source, the United States is trying to persuade the Taliban to attend the Istanbul Conference. According to the source, the Taliban refused to attend the Istanbul Conference in order not to impose any issues on their agenda. However, the source added that the Taliban may now attend the conference.

According to this informed source, Mr. Khalilzad believes that the Taliban will attend the meetings until September, when the foreign forces will withdraw completely from Afghanistan, but will not accept any political agreement. The United States has reportedly said the Taliban are trying to escalate the fighting and seize power militarily. For this reason, Khalilzad believes the Taliban are preparing for war and may challenge a number of provinces by launching attacks. According to the source, Khalilzad has assured that the group has no ability to defeat the Afghan government. The US Special Representative for the Peace Process in Afghanistan has also made it clear that the United States and the international community do not want the Taliban to come to power militarily. Khalilzad said during the meetings that there was now a serious and strong consensus against any attempt by the Taliban to seize power militarily at the regional and international levels. He noted the escalation of the war, with the Taliban now launching heavy offensive attacks in Ghazni, Helmand and Farah provinces.

The source also noted that the Istanbul Conference will be held after Eid and that the United States will continue to interact and talk with the Taliban to attend the conference to reach an agreement. On the other hand, Khalilzad told Afghan government officials that the Taliban were trying to free 7,000 prisoners and remove their leaders from the UN blacklist. During Zalmai Khalilzad’s meeting with the leadership of the High Council for National Reconciliation, it was reminded that this issue would be discussed and agreed upon at the Istanbul Conference.

However, the source at HCNR said that the issue of the release of Taliban prisoners had also been raised by the Taliban at the Extended Troika meeting, but that Russia had opposed the release of Taliban prisoners and the removal of their leaders from the UN blacklist. According to the source, the Russians have argued that the United States alone does not have the authority to remove Taliban leaders from the UN blacklist and that this issue should be discussed at a UN Security Council meeting.

On the other hand, Zalmai Khalilzad said at the meeting that political consensus is needed to reach a comprehensive agreement. According to Khalilzad, without a political consensus, it would be difficult to reach an agreement. However, the source said that although there is a consensus among political leaders, the Presidential Palace has not shown much interest in this issue. Mr. Khalilzad referred to the political consensus while Abdullah Abdullah, chairperson of the High Council for National Reconciliation, had said earlier that Afghan political leaders should either unite to support peace talks with the Taliban or wait for a “bitter war” after foreign troops leave Afghanistan. Abdullah had warned that if the current powerful leaders in Kabul did not unite, history and millions of Afghans would harshly judge them.

On the other hand, President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, in a meeting with members of the Afghan Women’s Network on Tuesday, May 4, said that after this, he will no longer attend meetings on peace as a guest but as the real owner of the process. He saw the withdrawal of foreign troops as an opportunity and said that it would strengthen Afghanistan’s national sovereignty. The president added that the region’s narrative is changing and a new chapter is beginning with international partners and that there is a better opportunity for peace than ever before. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani explained that the main decision regarding peace inside Afghanistan will be made and that decision will be taken by the people of Afghanistan.

It should be noted that the Istanbul Conference has been postponed twice so far. The conference was scheduled to take place on April 24, but the Taliban said it was not ready to attend. Turkey  then delayed the conference. However, due to the Taliban’s lack of interest in the timeline, the conference was postponed until after Eid al-Fitr. It is worth mentioning that the exact date of this meeting has not been clarified yet.

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