Afghan government unconditionally releases hundreds of Taliban prisoners

In an effort to convince the Taliban to open negotiations, the Afghan government has freed hundreds of Taliban prisoners without conditions, and will free hundreds more. The Taliban has not responded to the prisoner release, and continues to refuse to negotiate with the Afghan government.

The Afghan government confirmed that 490 Taliban fighters and commanders have been released since the beginning of June, TOLONews reported. A total of 887 prisoners, all members of the Taliban, are slated to be released during the observance of Eid al Fitr, National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib confirmed.

The Taliban prisoners were released unconditionally. They are not required to denounce the Taliban or promise to quit the fight against the Afghan government. Historically, Taliban prisoners who have been freed from Afghan prisons have returned to the battlefield.

President Ashraf Ghani “announced the release of 887 prisoners as part of his efforts to persuade the resurgent group to engage in intra-Afghan dialogue to end the conflict through diplomatic settlement,” TOLONews noted.

The Taliban has not acknowledged the release of its prisoners. It has been unmoved by such gestures in the past, and are likely to ignore the latest. The Taliban has refused to recognize the Afghan government, which it has consistently called the “Kabul administration,” “impotent,” a “stooge” of the US and the West, and other derogatory names, let alone negotiate with it. The Taliban views the Afghan government as un-Islamic and says that only its “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” is the true representative of the Afghan people. It will settle for nothing less than the return of Taliban rule.

Over the years, the Taliban has played a clever game of divide and conquer inside Afghanistan, playing off of political rivalries and the desire of civil society for an end to the war. It has consistently held to its negotiating position that it will only negotiate with the US, which it views as the real decision maker in Afghanistan. The Taliban will only consider negotiations with groups inside Afghanistan after the US and NATO withdraws their troops from the country. It has agreed to meet with members of the political opposition and various interest groups inside Afghanistan, but has refused to attend meetings if the Afghan government is represented.

The release of nearly 900 of its members from Afghan prisons likely will not affect the Taliban’s stance on direct negotiations with the Afghan government. It will give the Taliban a boost in fighting capacity as it continues to press its spring offensive and increase the amount of territory and Afghans it influences.