Taliban-Afghan govt held first direct talks by videoconference


KABUL: The Taliban and the Afghan government have held first direct talks by videoconference to explore ways for release of prisoners that would pave the way for intra-Afghan dialogue.

Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said a technical team of the Taliban for the release of prisoners talked with a technical team of the Kabul administration in the presence of the US and Qatari delegations via videoconference on Sunday.

He said in a twitter post the talks solely centred on prisoners release for which the two teams are formed and other issues will be dealt with during the intra-Afghan negotiations

Afghanistan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib said all sides emphasized the importance of a reduction in violence, direct negotiations, and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.

“During the meeting, the sides exchanged views on initial technical steps required to pave the way forward on prisoner releases,” he said in a statement posted on twitter.

On his part US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said the US and Qatar facilitated the first Afghan government to Taliban technical talks on prisoner releases, via Skype video conferencing.

“Prisoner release by both sides is an important step in the peace process, as stated in the US-Taliban agreement. And critical for humanitarian reasons,” said Khalilzad in a series of tweets.

“The over two-hour technical discussion today was important, serious, and detailed. Everyone clearly understands the coronavirus threat makes prisoner releases that much more urgent,” he said.

The US envoy said all sides conveyed their strong commitment to a reduction of violence, intra-Afghan negotiations, and a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire.

“We have also agreed to a follow-on technical meeting in the next two days,” he said.

Taliban spokesman Shaheen described the talks as “positive” when his comments were sought on the Sunday’s talks.

Javid Faisal, spokesperson for the Office of the National Security Council, said on Monday that the talks “could pave the way for release of the Taliban prisoners.”

Taliban previously refused to talk an Afghan government’s delegation that was sent to Qatar last month to discuss plans for release of the prisoners. Taliban insisted release of 5000 prisoners before the intra-Afghan dialogue under their agreement with the US signed in Qatar on Feb. 29.

President Ashraf Ghani had refused to release Taliban prisoners that also delayed the intra-Afghan dialogue.

According to the Taliban-US agreement a total of 5000 Taliban detainees would be released by March 10 and Taliban will also free 1000 prisoners of the other side.

Khalilzad, who brokered the direct Taliban-Kabul contact, had suggested that technical teams from both sides can work together and focus on technical steps to begin prisoner releases as soon as possible.

He had also floated the idea of “virtual engagement” due to the spread of coronavirus and travel restrictions.

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