US-Taliban peace talks will depend on prisoner exchange and release Taliban detainees, some of whom may be affiliated with the militant group Al Qaeda.
This prisoner exchange offer to trade U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the American prisoner of war, captured in 2009, for Taliban detainees was made by Taliban spokesman, Shaheen Suhail, Thursday during during a phone interview with reporters. He was speaking from the Taliban’s newly opened political office in Doha, the capital of Qatar.
He said trading prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba would be a way to “build bridges of confidence” and to launch wider peace talks.
“First has to be the release of detainees,” Suhail said. “Yes. It would be an exchange. Then step by step, we want to build bridges of confidence to go forward.”
The Taliban proposed the release of five prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for Sgt. Bergdahl.
This Taliban overture injected new life into a proposal that was first promoted in 2011 but buckled after Congress balked at it. In addition, the strict conditions that the Obama administration wanted as part of the prisoner exchange also created impediments to move the deal go forward. One condition the Obama Administration had stipulated was that the exchanged Taliban prisoners be kept in Qatar and be banned from leaving the country.
The Obama Administration made these conditions in order to comply with legal restrictions that Congress imposed to thwart efforts by the released detainees to return to the battlefield.
Citing these restrictions, the Taliban walked away from holding peace talks. On Thursday, the Taliban spokesman did not make it clear whether the militant group had softened its position on these issues.
According to media reports, the five detainees proposed for exchange are said to be the most senior militants and without this deal would be the last to be released if Guantanamo Bay prison were to close.
Two of the militants, said to be senior Taliban commanders, were allegedly involved in killing thousands of minority Shiites Muslims in Afghanistan before they were driven from power in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
According to reports, their interrogators said the two did not “express any regret and stated they did what they needed to do in their struggle to establish their ideal state.”
According to reports, the other three are alleged to have worked with various radical militias including Al Qaeda. There is also a former Taliban minister who is said to have asked for help from Iran to attack Americans.
According to officials’ familiar with these negotiations, any prisoner exchange is not imminent. Any transfer would require 30 days’ notice to Congress and the administration has not given any notification.
Howard P. McKeon , a California Republican, who is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has expressed concerns. According to his spokesman, Mr. McKeon would want to know what plans the administration had to ensure that the five would remain under surveillance.
“Absent any actual details, the chairman remains very concerned that these five individuals should never be allowed to re-engage,” the spokesman said.
The Obama administration has remained noncommittal about the offer. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “We’ve been very clear on our feelings about Sgt. Bergdahl and the need for him to be released. We have not made a decision to … transfer any Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay, but we anticipate, as I’ve said, that the Taliban will all raise this issue.”
According to media reports, the five Taliban prisoners in the proposed exchange are Mohammad Nabi Omari, Abdul Haq Wasiq, Mullah Norullah Noori, Mullah Mohammad Fazl, and Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhwa.
The US has long sought peace talks with the Taliban.
By Perviz Walji