KARACHI, Pakistan

Pakistan on Wednesday welcomed the Afghan grand assembly’s proposed release of some 400 key Taliban prisoners, a key demand from the warring group for the start of the much-awaited intra-Afghan dialogue.

During a farewell meeting with outgoing Afghan Ambassador Shukrullah Atif Mashal in the capital Islamabad, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi hoped the intra-Afghan negotiations would commence “at the earliest” bringing the 18-year war in Afghanistan to an end.

Qureshi urged the Afghan leadership to seize “this historic opportunity to achieve a comprehensive, broad-based and inclusive political settlement” in the country, according to a statement from the Foreign Ministry.

On Sunday, Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga, or the grand assembly, approved the release of the Taliban prisoners, paving the way for start of direct talks between the group and the Kabul government.

Accepting the Loya Jirga’s recommendations, President Ashraf Ghani on Monday signed a decree to release the Taliban prisoners, Afghan media reported quoting unnamed government sources.

The move was part of a prisoner swap deal, following a landmark peace agreement between the US and the Taliban in Doha in February this year.

The Afghan government has so far released 4,600 Taliban prisoners, in addition to 500 prisoners, who were not in the Taliban list, according to local media.

Mashal, for his part, thanked Qureshi for his personal attention to further enhance Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral relations and for the consistent support extended by the Foreign Ministry, the statement said.

In December 2018, Pakistan arranged rare direct talks between Washington and the Taliban, paving the way for a negotiated settlement of the lingering conflict.

Pakistan also facilitated the landmark first round of direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Islamabad in July 2015.

That process broke down after the Taliban announced the death of their long-time leader Mullah Omar, triggering a bitter internal power struggle.

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