The Afghan government says, it will only release those Taliban prisoners who are screened, who have no criminal background and do not pose threats to its national security or the security of Afghanistan’s allies after they are freed.
The government does not recognize any obligation to release any Taliban prisoners who are Pakistani Nationals and not Afghans. Too many Pakistanis have been arrested by the Security Forces during military operations in Afghanistan. Because of this position by the Afghan government, the Taliban are pulling back from the Intra-Afghan talks, claiming the government is unwilling to release their prisoners. This is untrue, the Afghan government has been carefully and cautiously screening and releasing prisoners as part of the process to start Intra-Afghan talks on other topics beyond prisoners.
After the Taliban pulled back from the talks, one of their so-called spokesmen said, the government is” wasting time” and delaying the prisoners’ release process intentionally. Therefore, there is no need to carry on with the talks, according to them. With this, the Taliban are proving they are not asking for the prisoner release to build trust to get closer to direct peace talks, but to improve and rebuild their ranks. If the Taliban are truly concerned about building trust for further negotiations, they will respect the thorough process the Afghan government is going through. It might seem to most people that they are more worried about putting their prisoners back into their militia force than building trust.
The Taliban has never severed ties with foreign fighters and it’s unlikely they will do so. In fact, they reassured them that the Doha deal is neither against their Jihad and nor Jihadi groups. It is nothing than a tactical move which will not be implemented, according to them. They continue to protect and regulate foreign militants in the country and in return these foreign fighters who often specialize in such as making IEDs and are weapons trainers assist them in their ant-government operations. The only group excluded from the Taliban’s mercy is ISIS fighters who activate independently and against their will.
The government paused the prisoner release process when the Taliban unexpectedly presented a list of 15 prisoners with names of some of the top Taliban prisoners among them foreign national terrorists and were behind some horrific attacks inside Afghanistan. These prisoners were convicted by the courts for committing heinous crimes against innocent people in Afghanistan, according to top security officials.
Afghan Intelligence confirms one of those 15 prisoners the Taliban want his release, is commander Lail udin who was behind one of the most devastating and horrific truck bombing in Kabul in May 2017, which killed at least 90 people and wounded 400.
The Afghan government is aware of how careful they need to be to make sure the peace talks move forward. We want peace more than anyone after over two decades of Taliban movement violence.
550 Taliban prisoners, who were deemed eligible were set free from the Afghan prisons. This release was a unilateral decision by the Afghan government aimed to demonstrate a goodwill gesture. The National Security Council of Afghanistan put out a statement explaining these prisoners were released based on Ashraf Ghani’s presidential decree signed on March 11.
President Ashraf Ghani refused to concede to any international pressures in releasing 5000 Taliban prisoners saying he won’t release any prisoner until a proper mechanism is introduced to make the process work effectively.
The Afghan government is screening the prisoners responsibly and not rushing to simply meet a timetable. The latest prisoner release was done after a vetting process was conducted proving those released weren’t coming back to the frontlines to fight against the Afghan National Security Forces.
Following persistent international requests, president Afghan Ghani announced a 21-member negotiating team on March 27 to kick start the Intra-Afghan talks, but the Taliban astonishingly refused to talk to them, saying the Afghan delegation wasn’t inclusive enough.
On March 31, the Taliban sent a three-member technical team to Kabul to inspect the prisoners’ release process from the government prisons. While in Kabul the team stayed at Qatar embassy but dealt directly with the Afghan government on proceeding with the prisoner release. when the first Taliban list of prisoners became public which included some Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan government was quick to say, no. This is not happening. Nowhere in the deal says, Pakistani Taliban could be released.
We must remember that the goal for the release of 1,000 Afghan and 5,000 Taliban prisoners was aimed for trust-building to be followed by direct intra-Afghan talks with the Taliban.
The Taliban seem to be in a rush to the Afghan government release prisoners haphazardly, while making special demands which go against the Doha deal. According to senior Afghan officials, the Taliban have been begging to make get their prisoners out quickly. They reached out to the Americans, and sent indirect messages to the Afghan government to speed up the prisoner release process.
The Taliban should know that they don’t have a deal with the Afghan government yet which could resolve the prisoner release process immediately. They must continue talking directly to the Afghan government to achieve a deal. As a reminder, there is no mention of the release of foreign national terrorists in the US-Taliban deal signed in Doha.
Afghans realize the world is waiting to see the Afghan government and the Taliban deliver on their promises they made and move toward an actual peace deal that would be signed between the Afghan government and the Taliban that could probably end the never-ending war in the country. Unfortunately, the actions of the Taliban, and their main supporter Pakistan, don’t cause the Afghan government trust the intentions of the Taliban.
A political impasse between President Ashraf Ghani his rival and former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah who also claimed victory in the September 2019 presidential elections will undoubtedly add to the damage it can cause in the reputation of the Afghan government. The Taliban can use this in their favor and show the world they will fix this problem provided they are allowed to take charge of the government. Although we are almost close a breakthrough which will end the status quo. Former CEO Abdullah is said to have agreed to join the current government and take the lead for the High Council for Reconciliation. The council will be in charge of peace talks with the Taliban.
On April 4, the Afghan National Directorate of Intelligence put out a statement, about the arrested of Aslam Farooqi the leader of ISIS-K, along with 19 members of his group. This was a massive victory for Afghanistan in the war on terror. Yet Pakistan foreign ministry summoned Afghan ambassador to Islamabad making an official request to hand Aslam Farooqi to Pakistan for” further investigation”. Of course, the Afghan government turned down Pakistan’s extradition demand and the Afghan ministry of foreign affairs, announced that Farooqi won’t be extradited, and he would be tried under the Afghan laws. Farooqi’s ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the latest attack on a Sikh Gurdwara in Kabul which killed 25 people. There must be justice.
Further, recent credible intelligence reports from sources within Pakistan revealed the Taliban and their supporters are working on a battle plan to be launched after the US withdrawal, which according to them might give a chance to retake control of the country by toppling the current government. The plans details go as far as to build a framework for how to rule Afghanistan once the international community is gone.
These findings suggest how dishonest the Taliban have been by telling the United States they would make peace and subsequently join the government. With their ominous aims, the Taliban seem to be trying to get their prisoners out first to pave their way for their planned takeover of the country.
Both the Pakistani government and their proxies are plotting to try to take over Afghanistan, so it is for the Afghan government to make sure they don’t commit any mistakes in the current process that would allow this to happen.
The Taliban do not seem to be prepared to move forward in achieving peace. On the contrary, they are waiting to outlast the US and move according to their ill-well plans. In the way of the Taliban stands a strong Afghan National Army and police force which will not waste any time in hunting them down, should they not embrace peace and keep fighting.
It was said that the Taliban has only released 60 prisoners 40 of them in the eastern province of Laghman. Their local commander claimed those prisoners released were bona fide members of Afghan security forces. But the government did not confirm it.
In the prisoner release occasions which took place on 16 and 17 April in Laghman province, a local Taliban commander commented, their obligation to release government prisoners was more to the US, than to the Afghan government. He added, they will continue to fight for the re-establishment of their so called “Islamic Emirate”.
The Afghan government remains a true defender and custodian of the nation and the republic. This is their prime duty, and the government will not let any achievements made in the course of the past 19 years, at cost of much blood and treasure, to be in vain. It will stand by its people and defend democracy, republic and a free and independent Afghanistan. In the meantime, the government backs the US-Taliban deal and believes it’s going to work out.
The Taliban will not succeed in any plan to ever take Afghanistan backwards.
*Jawad Sukhanyar serves as a member of the Strategic Communication Team for Peace, a small cell working out of the Presidential Palace in Kabul focusing on the current peace process with the Taliban. He is also a media adviser to the First Vice President of Afghanistan. Jawad is an Afghan journalist who reported in Afghanistan for many years including for The New York Times. He has a BA in Political Science from Goa University, and an MA (MPS) from Indira Gandhi National Open University. Jawad was a Knight Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan in its class of 2019.