Taliban offer truce for prisoner release

A 3-month ceasefire proposed; Pakistan confirms militants have seized Spin Boldak border crossing

The Taliban have offered a three-month ceasefire in exchange for the release of 7,000 insurgent prisoners, an Afghan government negotiator said on Thursday, as Pakistan confirmed the militant group had control of a key border crossing.

“It is a big demand,” said Nader Nadery, a key member of the government team involved in peace talks with the Taliban, adding the insurgents also demanded the removal of their leaders’ names from a United Nations blacklist. It was not clear how the government would react to the ceasefire offer, or how new it was, and it comes as the United States accelerates the pace of a troop withdrawal due to be finished by August 31.

A spokesman for the Taliban said he was only aware of the suggestion of a ceasefire over the forthcoming Eid al-Adha holiday.

Mr. Nadery’s revelation came as Pakistan security forces used tear gas on Thursday to disperse hundreds of people who tried to force their way across the border from Chaman to Spin Boldak in Afghanistan.

On Thursday, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the border crossing was in the hands of the Taliban. “They have taken control of Spin Boldak border crossing,” said Ministry spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri, a day after the Taliban seized the town.

The border was closed on Wednesday by Pakistan officials after the Taliban seized Spin Boldak and raised insurgent flags above the town. “An unruly mob of about 400 people tried to cross the gate forcefully. They threw stones, which forced us to use tear gas,” said a security official on the Pakistan side.

He said around 1,500 people had gathered at the border on Wednesday waiting to cross. Jumadad Khan, a senior government official in Chaman, said the situation was now “under control”.

An Afghan Taliban source told AFP that hundreds of people had also gathered on the Afghan side, hoping to travel in the other direction. “A formal meeting to open the border is scheduled for today, and hopefully, it will open in a day or two,” he said.

Later on Thursday, a Pakistani official said the border would open on Friday.

The crossing provides direct access to the Balochistan province in Pakistan, where the Taliban’s top leadership has been based for decades, along with an unknown number of reserve fighters who regularly enter Afghanistan to help bolster their ranks.

Spin Boldak is the latest in a string of border crossings and dry ports seized by the insurgents in recent weeks as they look to choke off revenues much needed by Kabul while also filling their own coffers.

Muska Dastageer, a lecturer at the American University of Afghanistan, said the Taliban ceasefire offer was a likely attempt by them to consolidate the positions they have gained so swiftly in recent weeks. “A ceasefire now would effectively prohibit ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] from retaking the crucial border points which Taliban have captured recently,” she said on Twitter, referring to Afghan forces.

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