Focus on Loya Jirga’s decision to release 400 convicted Taliban and intra-Afghan talks.

Indian and Afghan officials in Delhi and Kabul discussed the outcome of the Loya Jirga or grand assembly in Afghanistan that advised the release of 400 Taliban militants convicted of serious crimes.

According to officials, the two sides discussed the likelihood of intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha, Qatar, which have been put off to next week, as well as the hopes for a permanent ceasefire, in a briefing two days after the Jirga’s decision. The talks could now take place on August 16-17 in Doha, once President Ghani’s government releases all the men, bringing the total number of Taliban fighters released to about 5,500. 

The officials said the release was conditional, and contingent on a reduction in the level of violence by the Taliban as well as a “humanitarian ceasefire” for civilians to be transported during the coronavirus pandemic without fear of the Taliban. The Taliban is also required to guarantee that none of the men being released will return to combat.

Sources also told The Hindu that once the talks in Doha, between government representatives, civil society members and the Taliban, take place, another round of talks could be scheduled in Germany, which has offered to host them.

“[Afghanistan Deputy Minister Mirwaiz Nab and Indian Ambassador Vinay Kumar] discussed the decisions of the Loya Jirga, the release of Taliban prisoners and the need for a ceasefire to end the war and crisis in Afghanistan, the international community’s support for the peace process and the implementation of Representatives of the Afghan people in the Loya Jirga called the consultation important and crucial,” said a statement by the Afghanistan Foreign Ministry. The statement also “stressed the need for global and regional support” for the peace process. On Monday, Mr. Nab had also met and briefed the Chinese Ambassador to Afghanistan.

In Delhi, Afghanistan Ambassador Tahir Qadiry said on Wednesday that he had discussed the Loya Jirga with MEA joint secretary for Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran J.P. Singh.

According to an official, talks are also on for the release of the last of the group of seven Indian hostages still held by the Taliban following their abduction in 2018. Two others were released and returned to India last week, while four others had returned much earlier.

It is hoped that the release of the Taliban prisoners will include those demanded in exchange for the release of the Indian hostage, who was an employee at a power plant project run by Indian engineering company KEC. He was abducted at gunpoint by Taliban militants in Afghanistan’s Baglan province two years ago. In a conversation last Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi thanked Afghanistan President Ghani for the government’s assistance in freeing the Indian hostages.

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