The United States has proposed that hundreds of Taliban prisoners be transferred to house arrest in a supervised facility when they are freed from Afghan jails, three senior official sources said, a proposed solution for a deadlock that is holding up peace talks.
The proposal for Taliban fighters accused of conducting some of the bloodiest attacks in Afghanistan to be placed in a location where they would be under both Taliban and Afghan government surveillance was presented this week to the warring Afghan sides by top U.S. diplomats, the sources said.
The diplomats are trying to kickstart peace negotiations in Doha that have been delayed over the prisoner issue. The Afghan government is resisting freeing the final batch out of some 5,000 prisoners whose release was demanded by the insurgent group as a condition to start peace talks.
U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad pressed Taliban leaders and President Ashraf Ghani to break the deadlock during a visit to Kabul this week.
Around 400 prisoners are still in government custody, with Western allies also expressing concerns over releasing around half of those.
“The Americans and their allies agree that it would be insane to let some of the most dreaded Taliban fighters walk out freely...the Afghan forces arrested them for conducting some of the most heinous crimes against humanity,” said a senior western diplomat in Kabul.
Khalilzad’s office was not immediately available for comment on the proposals. A spokesman for Ghani declined to comment.
The State Department referred Reuters to a statement it released after Khalilzad’s visit, which said he had pressed for “ongoing efforts to resolve the remaining issues ahead of intra-Afghan negotiations”, including the prisoner release, but did not detail any proposals.
Of the 400 prisoners left, around 200 are accused by the Afghan government of masterminding attacks on embassies, public squares, and government offices, killing thousands of civilians in recent years and including a huge 2017 blast targeting the German Embassy in Kabul.
Two Taliban sources and one former senior Afghan official said senior members of the militant Haqqani Network, which has ties to the Taliban, are also among the group.
On Friday, Ghani ordered the release of 500 Taliban prisoners who are not part of the group’s list.
However the two Taliban and two diplomatic sources said the insurgent group was insistent on its demand for the release of the remaining 400 prisoners on the list.