Release prisoners before we talk – Taliban

  • 25/01/2016

Afghanistan's Taliban have demanded the release of political prisoners as one of the conditions they need met before they'll consider rejoining peace talks aimed at ending the 15-year war.

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

The Islamist 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 on Sunday (local time).

"Without them, progress towards peace is not feasible."

Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul, said the Taliban have been fairly consistent in their demands and he is sceptical the latest push would yield any results.

"The demand for a release of what they call political prisoners had been on the table in earlier talks, too," he said.

The latest demands are not a sign that the "Taliban are willing to join talks anytime soon".

The demands came a day after participants from 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 rare talks are a step towards a peace process that has proved elusive during a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of Afghans since the Taliban were driven from power by a 2001 US-led military operation.

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.