The Afghan government claims there are between 10,000 to 15,000 Taliban prisoners in Afghan jails including some foreigners arrested because they helped the Taliban.
The US and the Taliban signed an agreement on the 29th of February. It contained a provision that they should work with all sides on a plan to quickly release combat and political prisoners as a confidence building measure coordinated and approved by relevant sides.
The swap would involve 5,000 Taliban prisoner from the government side and 1,000 held by the Taliban. The swap should happen by March 10, the first day scheduled for intra-Afghan negotiation.
Afghan government does not accept prisoner swap
The Afghan government was not part of the negotiations or a party to the agreement. President Ghani said in a press conference that the Afghan government made no commitment to release the Taliban prisoner.
In an interview President Ghani noted that President Trump had not requested that he sign the deal. He also said there was no consensus within his government to carry out the deal. He said there was no practical possibility of vetting 5,000 Taliban prisoners by March 10.
A spokesperson for the Afghan Office of the National Security Advisor said that the Afghan government would raise the prisoner swap issue as part of a proposed package including other issues such as a ceasefire within the intra-Afghan peace talks. The prisoner swap far from being a confidence-building move has become a stumbling block in carrying out the terms of the treaty. Seddiq Sediqqi a spokesperson for President Ghani said that the Taliban continued demand for the release of their prisoners could put the peace process in jeopardy. One could say that the government unwillingness to carry out the swap puts the process in jeopardy. Seddiqi insisted that it was not reasonable or logical to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners before there was agreement on a ceasefire.
Afghan government does agree with the aims of the agreement
The government said that it wanted to create conditions for reaching a political settlement and also for reaching a permanent sustainable ceasefire. The government would also participate in a US facilitated discussion with Taliban representatives on confidence building measures and this would include the feasibility of releasing significant numbers of prisoners on both sides. The US and Afghanistan would seek the assistance of the International Red Cross to support discussions.
Taliban resume attacks on Afghan forces
The Taliban appear to have interpreted the Afghan government’s rejection of the swap as breaking the agreement and a justification for resumption of attacks. A Taliban spokesperson tweeted an image of the US Taliban agreement with the text of the prisoner swap terms outlined. President Ghani claimed that the agreement says only that the US will facilitate the release of prisoners and that the government is not bound to. Presumably the text says otherwise or at least seems to do so. Although the Taliban have been attacking government positions, they have not attacked any foreign forces. Mark Esper the US Secretary of Defense condemned the Taliban attacks but Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Mark Milley downplayed the attacks saying that none were high profile and that in general the situation was better.
US resumes defense of the Afghan government
On Wednesday US planes carried out the first airstrike on Taliban forces since the peace agreement. The Taliban who were attacked were in the process of attacking a government checkpoint. US officials spoke of the action as defensive. However, the Taliban had been making attacks only against the government. US and other foreign forces have not been targets. The US officials claimed the Taliban were not in compliance with their promise reduce attacks on Afghans. However, that was for a seven day period that is over and the Afghan government has not kept the agreement. The Taliban has agreed to enter talks but only about the prisoner-swap part of the agreement with the US.