US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said on Wednesday that coronavirus “makes prisoner releases urgent” as President Ashraf Ghani’s refusal to release Taliban prisoners has delayed the intra-Afghan dialogue. The formal intra-Afghan negotiations were scheduled for March 10 under the Taliban-US agreement but could not take place as Taliban prisoners were not released. According to the Taliban-US agreement a total of 5000 Taliban detainees would be released by March 10 and Taliban will also free 1000 prisoners of the other side.Khalilzad said in a series of tweets that the United States would like to see prisoner releases begin as soon as possible in line with the US-Taliban agreement. “No prisoners have been released to date despite the commitment to do so, expressed by both sides,” he said.“Coronavirus makes prisoner releases urgent; time is of the essence. We are committed to do our part and after consultation with all relevant sides,” he said. He suggested that technical teams from both sides can work together and focus on technical steps to begin prisoner releases as soon as possible. The US envoy said he will participate in the initial meetings as the time has come to move forward on prisoner releases.“While preferable to meet face-to-face, Coronavirus and the resulting travel restrictions likely requires virtual engagement for now. We call on all sides to avoid provocative media statements,” Khalilzad said.He said the Taliban have committed that released prisoners will abide by the commitments made in the peace agreement and not return to the battlefield as a violation will undermine the peace process.Ghani had earlier opposed release of the prisoners before the start of intra-Afghan dialogue and insisted that the prisoner issue should be part of the negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan side. However, he later announced release of hundreds of the Taliban prisoners in phases, some before the beginning of the intra-Afghan dialogue and remaining later after the start of the talks.The Afghan president last week signed a decree for the release of the prisoners and the first group was scheduled to be freed on Saturday. Kabul planned to start release of prisoners in groups and nearly 3500 would be released after the intra-Afghan negotiations are started. But the process could not be started apparently over Taliban opposition to Kabul’s plan.Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen says that their 5000 prisoners should be freed before the intra-Afghan dialogue.Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Taliban could reduce violence if the coronavirus crisis deepens. He told the BBC Pashto radio that Taliban would join to fight the spread of the virus.Meanwhile, the Taliban in a statement said the international relief, health and humanitarian organizations should execute their obligation of sending necessary equipment, medicine and aid to areas under the Taliban control and they will lay the groundwork for their secure travel.”In a statement the Taliban said coronavirus is a disease “ordained by the Almighty Allah which has perhaps been sent by Allah (SwT) because of the disobedience and sins of mankind or other reasons.”“Our Muslim nation must consider this disease a decree of Allah (SwT) and deal with it in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). As per the directives of scholars – people should recite effective prayers and astaghfar (seeking forgiveness) frequently, increase the reading of the Holy Quran, give in alms and charity and turn to Allah (SwT) in repentance for their past sins,” the statement said.