Afghan Taliban demand prisoner release to rejoin peace talks


Afghan Taliban demanded the release of political prisoners among a list of conditions that they said on Sunday would need to be met before they consider rejoining peace talks aimed at ending the 15-year war.

Taliban forces stepped up their campaign last year to topple the Kabul government, which has struggled since most foreign troops left at the end of 2014.

The insurgents are demanding the release of an unnamed list of prisoners, to be removed from a UN blacklist freezing their assets and imposing a travel ban on its leaders, and to have a political office formally recognised.

These are “among the preliminary steps needed for peace,” the Taliban said in a statement. “Without them, progress towards peace is not feasible.”

The Qatar office had disowned the much-publicised talks in Murree in early July and an early meeting in the Chinese city of Urumqi.

“The political office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is the only authorised and responsible entity assigned by the Islamic Emirate to carry out talks,” the statement added.

The demands came a day after representatives of the Taliban and former Afghan officials met in Qatar at a conference to resolve the war, organised by the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, a Nobel peace prize-winning crisis group.

The Afghan government and its sponsored High Peace Council have stayed away from the Pugwash meet on the plea that they consider it unnecessary because of the recently launched quadrilateral process by Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the US.

Some former ministers, including Umar Daudzai, Anwarul Haq Ahadi and Dr Farooq Azam are among the Afghan delegates. All of them attended the conference in their personal capacity.

Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States met last week to lay the ground for a negotiated end to the war and called for the Taliban to rejoin the peace process.

The first formal peace talks with the Taliban since the start of the war collapsed last year after it was announced that its founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar, who sanctioned the talks, had been dead for two years, throwing the group into disarray.