Afghan President Ashraf Ghani began a process on Sunday to release up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners as a goodwill gesture after the insurgents proposed a surprise ceasefire during the Eid holiday.
The ceasefire appeared to hold as there were no reports of fighting between the insurgents and Afghan forces by the end of the first day on Sunday.
Ghani also said the government was ready to hold peace talks with the Taliban after accepting their offer of a three-day truce over the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.
The decision to release the prisoners was a “goodwill gesture” and was taken “to ensure success of the peace process”, Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said on Twitter.
A Taliban-US deal signed in February stipulated that the Afghan government would release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners while the insurgents would free about 1,000 Afghan security force personnel.
The prisoner swap is seen as a confidence-building move ahead of long-awaited peace talks between the government and the Taliban.
Before Sunday’s announcement, Kabul had already released about 1,000 Taliban inmates while the insurgents had freed roughly 300 members of the Afghan security forces.
The insurgents said they were committed to free prisoners, but reminded Kabul that the deal was to “release 5,000” of their members as agreed with the US in Qatari capital Doha.
“This process should be completed in order to remove hurdles in the way of commencement of intra-Afghan negotiations,” tweeted Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen.
Ghani said a government delegation was “ready to immediately start the peace talks” with the insurgents.
Government negotiators would be headed by Ghani’s former bitter rival Abdullah Abdullah after the two signed a power-sharing deal last week that ended a months-long political crisis.