Once at Guantánamo, 5 Senior Taliban Members Now Join Political Office in Qatar

5

KABUL, Afghanistan — Five senior Taliban members who spent years in the American prison camp at Guantánamo Bay have joined the insurgency’s political office in Qatar at a time when that delegation has been at the center of American efforts to start a peace process, Taliban officials said Wednesday.The five high-ranking members of the original Taliban movement — including the chief of the Taliban government’s army, a minister, a deputy intelligence chief, and two governors — were released in 2014 in exchange for an American soldier held by the insurgency, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The five were shifted to Qatar, where officials say about three dozen Taliban leaders live with their families, and remained under watch of that country’s government.Their joining of the Taliban’s political commission, which will bring them more freedom of movement, comes days after the insurgency’s longtime deputy, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was also released back to the Taliban ranks. Mullah Baradar was arrested in a joint Pakistani-American raid in 2010 and had remained in Pakistani detention.The recent developments follow two rounds of meetings between the Taliban and top American diplomats, after the Trump administration ordered direct contacts to try to jump-start an Afghan peace process.It remains unclear how much effect the release of Mullah Baradar and the joining of the other senior five members, which was confirmed by a Taliban statement, will have on initiating a peace process.Although all six men were once senior leaders, and among the early members of the Taliban movement that came to power in the mid 1990s, they have been out of the ranks for a long time. During their absence, the Taliban have gone through two leadership transitions.Their return to the fold could be seen as an effort to balance the influence of Sarajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban deputy and heir to his father’s Haqqani militant network, who as operations commander has been behind some of the most brutal attacks of the war.Even as the drive for peace talks has taken on urgency, violence has continued at an intense pace.In the Afghan capital, Kabul, a suicide bomber detonated explosives on Wednesday outside the Pul-e-Charkhi prison, killing at least five people, according to health officials. Local news media reports said the bomber had targeted a bus carrying prison workers.In the southern province of Uruzgan, chaotic violence continued into a fourth day, killing at least 21 people, government officials there said. The nature of the violence, in a district called Khas Uruzgan, was not precisely clear, but officials said it was clashes between the Taliban and an abusive local commander named Hakim Shujaee. Hundreds of families have been trapped by the fighting or displaced from their homes.In the western province of Farah, an Afghan Army helicopter crashed, killing 25 people on board, according to Mohammed Naseer Mehri, a spokesman for the governor there. Among the dead were senior officials, including members of the provincial council and security commanders. Although the Taliban claimed they had targeted the helicopter, Mr. Mehri said there was no enemy action involved in the incident.Despite some suggestions that the return of the older generation Taliban at a time when the new leadership had just strengthened its grip largely through battlefield gains might cause insecurities, field commanders were adamant it would have no such effect.“These people can play a positive role in politics, and they are deeply respected by the leadership,” said Mullah Shirin Hameedi, a Taliban commander in the south who once served as chief of security to the group’s founding leader. “If the leadership had fears from them, they would not be allowed into politics. We are all committed to our mission, whether old or new.”Borhan Osman, the senior analyst for Afghanistan at the International Crisis Group, said it was not clear how deep the American role in both the release of Mullah Baradar and expanded freedom for the so-called Guantánamo Five was. But he said both could be seen as a result of recent momentum toward talks among both the Americans and Taliban, along with some improved cooperation from Pakistan.“For a long time, there have been questions among the Taliban — that the five were released from Guantánamo but then their freedom was restricted in Doha,” Mr. Osman said, referring to Qatar’s capital. “Some viewed their transfer to Qatar as no big victory. Their return to the scene, in whatever capacity, might ease those concerns.”Mr. Osman said that internal conversations among the Taliban in recent months suggested they wanted to strengthen their negotiating team in Qatar, and “injecting the five was the most natural and rational way” to bolster the team.On the sidelines of a counterterrorism conference in Doha, Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, Qatar’s special envoy for counterterrorism and mediation of conflict resolution, praised the Trump administration for deciding to have direct talks with the Taliban, saying there was “no military solution” that would bring peace and stability to Afghanistan after 17 years of war.Emphasizing that each side in any peace talks gets to decide who will represent it, Mr. Qahtani suggested it had been the Taliban’s decision to ask the former Guantánamo detainees to be part of its formal delegation at its office in Doha.“This is not our decision,” he said. “This is not the decision of the U.S. government. This is their decision to nominate who they think is better to negotiate on their behalf.”But he pointed to the former Guantánamo detainees’ senior roles in the Taliban before their capture as a reason to see their participation in the peace talks as a good thing.“Bearing in mind the role these guys used to have, maybe, maybe they could play a positive role in the national reconciliation and in the peace process in Afghanistan,” Mr. Qahtani said. “My understanding is that the government of Afghanistan had no objection to this. They understand the reason. We hope the Americans have the same hope this new development will add value to the office, to the Taliban delegation.”

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.