Long-awaited peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban were expected to start in Qatar within a week once the final batch of Taliban prisoners were released, the U.S. special envoy and Afghan government sources said on Monday.
The government accepted the advice of a loya jirga, a grand assembly of elders, on Sunday to release 400 “hard-core” Taliban prisoners, paving the way for talks aimed at ending a war that has ground on since U.S.-backed Afghan forces ousted a Taliban government in late 2001.
“We are ready to sit for talks within a week from when we see our prisoners released. We are ready,” Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told Reuters on Monday.
A government source told Reuters that President Ashraf Ghani would likely sign the decree to release the prisoners later on Monday.
“Everyone is waiting for Ghani to sign on the decree. The original plan is to travel to Doha on Wednesday and the talks will begin on Sunday,” the source said.
U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who reached an agreement with the Taliban in February for the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops, welcomed the progress, having spent months trying to bring the militant movement to the negotiating table with the government.
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