Released Taliban prisoners returning to battleground in Afghanistan: Report

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New Delhi: The Taliban and the Afghan government are both getting ready for the first intra-Afghan talks to be held in Doha, Qatar. The Talibans 21-member negotiating team led by the groups chief justice, Maulavi Abdul Hakim, along with former chief negotiator Abbas Stanekzai, now serving as his deputy, are already in Doha. Prior to the deal with the US, the Taliban refused to directly negotiate with the Afghan government.

The US has ramped up pressure on Afghans on both sides of the conflict to open up negotiations over what a post-war Afghanistan might look like, how the rights of women and minorities would be protected, and how the tens of thousands of Taliban fighters and pro-government militias are disarmed and reintegrated.

The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad is also in Doha. “The Afghan people are ready for a sustainable reduction in violence and a political settlement that will end the war,” the US State Department said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Mohammad Naeem Wardak, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, said in a tweet: “A number of its detainees have not yet been released, which slows down the preparation for intra-Afghan talks to take place in Qatari capital Doha. Once the process of freeing its prisoners are done, they will be ready to sit with Afghans and negotiate on peace in the country.”

The Afghan President’s office announced on Sunday that preparations for the intra-Afghan negotiations are being finalized and the delay is due to Taliban’s unpreparedness for the talks. “We have released all prisoners on the Taliban list. The Taliban should stop making excuses and start direct talks immediately,” said Javid Faisal, spokesperson for the Afghan National Security Council.

Sources said, the delay is due to issues in the leadership of the Taliban’s negotiating team, adding that demands are being made on both sides. But releasing Taliban prisoners has made Afghan President “nervous”. On Monday, the First Vice President Amrullah Saleh said in an interview to an Afghan Channel, “…releasing 5,500 Taliban prisonersea hindrance to the intra-Afghan talksewere not upon our desire, rather the biggest cost paid to achieving peace in the country”. Incidentally Saleh escaped an assassination attempt on his life on September 9, the attack being timed with the killing of legendary commander Ahmad Shah Massood on the same date in 2001.

In fact, the Ghani government was not part of US-Taliban deal which was finalized on February 29 this year in Doha. According to the deal, the main condition put up by the Taliban was that the Afghan Government must release all its 5,500 prisoners. Ghani was apprehensive about it but after the Loya Jirga’s decision, he agreed to it. It was a decision fraught with risk for Ghani as Washington speeds up its withdrawal plans. Already thousands of troops have exited Afghanistan following the agreement, bringing President Donald Trump one step closer to fulfilling his campaign pledge to get America out of its “endless wars.”

Approximately 8,500 US troops remain in Afghanistan, down from a peak of about 100,000 in 2010 and a full withdrawal expected by April 2021. According to Javid Faisal, spokesman of the Afghan National Security Council, “Of the Taliban prisoners, 156 were awaiting the death penalty”, he said. All of the remaining inmates were convicted of major crimes including murder, rape and drug trafficking. “They are the worst of the worst,” Faisal said.

The Afghan president has claimed that the Taliban have failed to deliver on promises to reduce violence across the country, which remains stubbornly high despite the peace agreement. Since then about 3,560 Afghan security officials have been killed in attacks and thousands more maimed. He further added, “The government has fulfilled all its commitments in the peace process that the international committee had hoped for.”

Ghani said a “critical stage of peace” had been reached and the talks would help reduce violence and finalize a permanent ceasefire.

Meanwhile, according to the magazine, Foreign Policy, the Taliban prisoners released by the government are returning to battlefields as commanders and fighters-a breach of the Doha agreement. The report says that a majority of the released Taliban have taken up arms again with the intention to overthrow the government.

As doubts about the Taliban’s integrity rise to the surface, a new research for Queen’s University’s Senator, George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice, too has found that the released Taliban prisoners have indeed returned to the fight, or to previously held positions within the organization.

Intelligence officials in Kabul have acknowledged the report: “e that the findings are accord to what we have observed”.

The talks have not begun yet, and the UN has said the Taliban still maintain links to Al-Qaeda. Khalilzad too said the Taliban has made some progress breaking with terrorist groups, but “they have to take a lot more steps.”

The situation is in flux and India is watching carefully. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh recently had a detailed discussion with the Iranian top leadership. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, who stopped in Tehran before heading to Moscow for a foreign ministers meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation has discussed the Afghan situation with his Iranian counterpart Java Sharif.

Regarding India’s foreign policy objectives, Jaishankar says, “Evidence strongly supports the view that India has advanced its interests effectively” precisely “when it made hard-headed assessments of contemporary geopolitics. Taking risks is inherent to the realization of ambition.”

It is time for such ambition to be tested in Afghanistan. It will mean taking risks, assessing costs, and accepting failures, but it will also mean doing everything possible to address very real challenges in a country that readily signed a Treaty of Friendship with India as far back as 1950.

(IANS)

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