...by PressTV, Tehran

[ Editor’s Note: The first planned prisoner swap of 100 got nixed, when the Taliban launched two major attacks on Afghan forces north and south of Kabul with many KIAs. So I am surprised to see this news so soon afterwards.

The Taliban had earlier refused to negotiate with Kabul, claiming that its team was not diverse enough.

This impediment seems to have been resolved, possibly due their wanting to create a situation where the US could begin pulling its forces out while the peace talks are going on.

What the tangible results of all this will be is anyone’s guess, starting with the question of whether the Taliban will kill the talks once again with its usual attacks on government forces whenever it is unhappy about something.

Has the Taliban made a decision to get the first batch of US troops out so Trump has his reelection claim boost, and will they want to twist the arm of Kabul into making concessions?

There has been not a word mentioned about how the Afghan drug trade is going to be carved up. Will the Taliban demand that it be totally shut down, as it had done once before, and kiss all that money away; and would those now controlling it want to cede control after enjoying an annual $100 billion cash flow?Jim W. Dean ]

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Taliban PoWs

– First published … April 02, 2020

A Taliban delegation is in Afghanistan’s capital to start a prisoner exchange process with the government meant to pave the way for intra-Afghan peace talks, which are envisaged in an agreement reached in February between the militant group and the United States.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said a three-member “technical team” had arrived in Kabul on Tuesday to “help the process of prisoners’ release by identification of the prisoners, (and) their transportation.”

The prisoner swap — which is pivotal to kick-starting peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban — calls for the exchange of 6,000 prisoners held by the two warring sides.

The peace negotiations — known as the intra-Afghan dialog — will be aimed at restoring peace and stability to Afghanistan and ending Washington’s 18-year invasion of the Asian state. The prisoners exchange had been a sticking point between the Afghan government and the Taliban amid their differences over the process and its timetable.

“They (Taliban delegates) are here now and we will begin our discussion,” a senior Afghan government official was quoted by Reuters as saying. “The prisoner release might go ahead in a few days if everything goes as planned.”

The Taliban militants had been refusing to recognize the Afghan government until they reached a deal with the United States — in the absence of representatives from Kabul — in Doha, Qatar, on February 29.

Under the deal, the Taliban agreed to sever ties with al-Qaeda and other terror groups and sit down for peace talks with the Afghan government. In return, Washington will start a phased withdrawal of troops.

The Afghan government was a party neither to the negotiations nor to the deal, but it has been acting in accordance with its terms, including by agreeing to free Taliban prisoners.

The developments come amid a power struggle between incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and his main rival in Afghanistan’s 2019 presidential election, Abdullah Abdullah, who are at loggerheads over the results of the vote won by Ghani.

The prisoner swap process, however, was facilitated after Abdullah agreed to endorse the negotiating team appointed by the government despite the election row.

Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Kabul and later to Doha — where the Taliban have an office — to urge all sides to move forward with the process, which at that point was deadlocked. On Tuesday, Pompeo praised the Afghan political groups for setting aside their differences over forming a negotiating team.

“We’ve seen a (negotiating) team identified. Looks like it’s pretty inclusive, pretty broad. We’re happy about that,” Pompeo told a news conference in Washington.

“We’ve begun to see some work done on prisoner releases as well — all elements that have to come together so we can get to the inter-Afghan negotiations, which ultimately will prove to be the only mechanism that has any hope of delivering peace and reconciliation to the people,” he said.

The US and its allies invaded the Asian country to topple the Taliban regime in 2001, accusing it of harboring the al-Qaeda terrorist group. The invasion did topple the regime, but failed to end the Taliban’s militancy.

The militants now control or hold influence over more Afghan territory than at any point since that time and have carried out near-daily attacks against US-led foreign forces and Afghan military outposts throughout the war-ravaged country.

Over 100,000 Afghans have been killed or injured since 2009, when the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began documenting casualties. The Daesh terrorist group has also emerged in the Asian country more recently.

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