People express concerns over release of Taliban prisoners

Many people in Afghanistan express deep concerns over the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners. Some Afghan political commentators see the US-Taliban peace agreement—in particular the agreement on releasing Taliban prisoners—as win-win game for the Taliban militants. They believe that Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, who is convicted of election fraud, has agreed to release 5,000 Taliban inmates aiming at gaining international recognition.

Mr. Ghani, who is trying to take the lead of talks with the Taliban, earlier last week proposed a mechanism for Taliban prisoners’ release which was rejected by the Taliban. The Afghan government has agreed to release the Taliban inmates on certain conditions.

The Taliban have set the release of 5,000 prisoners as a pre-condition for formal commencement of the intra-Afghan talks which is expected to take place in coming weeks.          

Spokesperson for the Taliban’s office in Qatar, Suhail Shaheen, told Reuters that they never agreed to any “conditional release” of prisoners. “Our very condition is that the detainees are acceptable if verified by our team,” he added.

In response to the Taliban’s rejection, Afghanistan’s National Security Council (NSC) has said that the ball is in the Taliban’s court now to decide whether to remain part of the problem or become part the solution. “We proposed a mechanism for the peace process to move forward. Taliban will have to work with us to find a solution, get their prisoners released and push for peace,” said NSC Spokesperson, Javid Faisal, in a tweet posted Saturday, March 14.

In a joint press conference with human rights organizations, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) expressed concerns over the Afghan government decision to release the Taliban prisoners. The Afghan rights organizations called on the government not to release those prisoners who have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. Speaking at the conference, deputy head of the AIHRC, Naeem Nazari, stressed that only the Afghan people and victims of war have the authority to release the prisoners.

Ghani’s decision was also followed by harsh criticisms from his election and political rivals.  

Former chief of the country’s intelligence agency, Rahmatullah Nabil who ran for the presidency, slammed Ghani’s change of stance to release the prisoners—Ghani had declared before his inauguration ceremony that he has not made any commitment to release the Taliban prisoners—as “a shameful deal.” He further went on to pronounce the Taliban release as a step on the coffins of Afghan security forces who lost their lives in the war against the militants.

Though Abdullah had showed satisfaction with the US-Taliban agreement on the prisoners release before holding the parallel oath-taking ceremony, his second vice president, Asadullah Saadati, is now accusing Ghani of making deal with the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, over the prisoners’ release. “What Ghani is doing now is making an election-related deal with Khalilzad. He had previously expressed an explicit opposition against the release of prisoners but in a U-turn stance signed a decree to release Taliban prisoners after they (the Americans) accepted to make their presence in his oath-taking ceremony,” he argued.  

In his decree, Ghani stated that every Taliban prisoner will be freed after going through a due release process, including biometric verification and giving a pledge not to return to fighting.

Political and military commentators, however, believe that the Taliban prisoners will never remain committed to their pledge and they will be used against Afghan forces by the Taliban leaders.

According to Omar Sadr, a political commentator, the Taliban prisoners have become even more determined to fight as they have developed a sense of revenge while living in the prisons. “These are very effective assets for the Taliban leaders to be used for military aims considering their sense of revenge, dissatisfaction, and extremism,” he added.

Describing the Taliban prisoners as last play card for the Afghan government, Mr. Sadr stated that it has lost its last card in the election-related games. “It seems impossible for the Afghan government to make any achievement in the negotiating table. “There is nothing left to be used as leverage,” he added.

Asadullah Nadem, a military analyst, thinks that guarantee measures noted in President Ghani’s decree—taking pledge to leave fighting and biometric verification—will not make the Taliban prisoners to give up fighting. He further went on to accuse the Americans of violating Afghanistan sovereignty and described the US-Taliban peace deal as “colonizing action” by the US in which the Taliban was the winner.

“A single point of the [US-Taliban] agreement was not in the interest of Afghanistan. No attention was paid to any law, rights of the Afghan people, and to rights of the victims in the prisoners’ release,” said Atiqullah Amarkhil, another Afghan army veteran. He believes that the Taliban will take over the Afghan government if the Afghans do not stand united against them.