Freed Taliban fighters will be ‘peace envoys,’ says Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, in this file photo taken on July 15, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 June 2019

Freed Taliban fighters will be ‘peace envoys,’ says Ghani

  • President defends release of 490 militants as goodwill gesture

KABUL: Afghanistan has freed hundreds of jailed Taliban fighters since Eid as a goodwill gesture, the government confirmed on Friday.
Feroz Bashari, head of the government media center, told Arab News that “490 Taliban fighters have been freed since Eid.”
Brushing aside widespread criticism of the move, President Ashraf Ghani said on Thursday that most freed prisoners “will return to the battlefield, but will serve as peace envoys.”
The Taliban has long demanded that prisoners held in Afghan and US-run jails be freed as part of a possible future peace deal. The militants so far have refused to hold direct talks with government delegates, while meeting with US officials on several occasions.
The prisoner release, the biggest since Ghani assumed office in late 2014, has become a controversial issue in the deeply divided government, which has lost tens of thousands of troops in battle since the Taliban intensified attacks.
In an apparent response to criticism over the freeing of prisoners, Ghani told a gathering at the presidential palace that he was responding to calls made by the traditional assembly, or Loya Jirga, in April when scores of people urged him to release Taliban inmates.
“We are not going backward with regards to peace and serving the people,” Ghani said. “I accepted your suggestion and that of the Loya Jirga. Most of the released prisoners will become peace ambassadors and will not return to war.”
Government officials said a number of the freed men had “incurable illnesses, and some were elderly who had almost completed their sentences.”
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, on Thursday described the prisoner release as “a good step,” but said that only 261 out of those freed were Taliban fighters. The rest were falsely arrested by government and US-led troops.

FASTFACT

The Taliban has long demanded that prisoners held in Afghan and US-run jails be freed as part of a possible future peace deal.

John Bass, US ambassador to Afghanistan, praised Ghani’s move, saying it will “improve the climate for a political settlement.”
“Lasting peace will be rooted in reconciliation and forgiveness by all,” he said. The prisoner release has been widely attacked around the country, however.
Farmarz Tamana, a presidential candidate, said that with the Taliban stepping up attacks in recent months, Ghani’s decision “will reduce motivation among security forces.”
Taghyan Sakai, a university professor who lost a close relative in a recent Taliban attack, said the release will “harm the spirit of soldiers.” The former captives will return to battle as other prisoners had done in the past.
Fauzia Koofi, a former lawmaker, said that Ghani had the right to free or reduce the jail terms of criminals and other prisoners, but not of “terrorists.”
Meanwhile, Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s chief executive, said the Taliban “has no intent and will for peace in Afghanistan.”


Thailand reports 1 new coronavirus case, no new deaths

Updated 48 min 27 sec ago

Thailand reports 1 new coronavirus case, no new deaths

  • Local infections have significantly slowed and over the last two weeks
  • The coronavirus has killed 57 people in Thailand since it was first detected in January

BANGKOK: Thailand reported one new coronavirus case on Saturday and no new deaths, taking the total number of infections to 3,077 as local transmission of the new virus appears to wane.
The new patient arrived in Thailand via a land border with Malaysia earlier this week and has been in quarantine, said Panprapa Yongtrakul, a spokeswoman for the government’s Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration.
Local infections have significantly slowed and over the last two weeks, 43 of 52 new cases were Thais who had arrived from abroad, Panprapa added.
The coronavirus has killed 57 people in Thailand since it was first detected in January.