The Afghan government has executed six Taliban prisoners, solidifying a change in policy that further threatens the likelihood of peace talks.
Sunday’s executions followed a promise from the president, Ashraf Ghani, to take a harder line against the Taliban after a massive truck bomb on 19 April in Kabul killed at least 64 people.
In a statement, the palace said the six were executed for perpetrating serious crimes against civilians and security forces, and after demands from victims’ families.
In the aftermath of the April truck bomb, which elicited an outcry for the government to clamp down on militants rather than attempt diplomacy, Ghani declared that the “time of unjustified amnesty” was over. He vowed to execute people involved in terrorism.
Meanwhile, human rights defenders such as Amnesty International warned against executing prisoners for the sake of revenge.
“By hastily seeking retribution … the government of Afghanistan’s plans to execute those convicted of terror offences will neither bring the victims the justice they deserve, nor Afghanistan the security it needs,” said Jameen Kaur, the group’s deputy director for South Asia.
Some speculated that the executions would include that of the brother of the leader of the Haqqani network, which has taken a central role in the Afghan insurgency.
Instead, the hanged men included those convicted of involvement in the 2011 assassination of ex-president Burhanuddin Rabbani, and the 2009 killing of deputy intelligence chief Mohammad Laghmani.
Since coming to power in 2014, Ghani has tried to revive the stalled peace process. But in his speech after the Kabul attack, he called parts of the Taliban “the enemy”, a sharp change in rhetoric, and said not all Taliban factions were welcome in negotiations.
Ghani’s deputy spokesman, Dawa Khan Menapal, denied that the peace process had been a factor in deciding Sunday’s executions. “If they want to talk with us, we are ready. If they want to continue the war, we are ready to fight,” he said.
Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, said the executions helped perpetuate “a cycle of revenge”, making peace talks difficult. “This tit-for-tat is absolutely unhelpful,” he said.
Though capital punishment is inscribed in Afghan law, executions are rare. Sunday’s executions were the first since five alleged gang rapists were hanged in October 2014 after a controversially swift trial and public pressure on Ghani to stay the executions.