Of no consequence
detention of any of its activists or leaders in the past has been the immediate clarification that the prisoners who have been let off are no longer part of the movement and that any negotiations or deals made with them by anyone would have no value for the leadership of the movement. Indeed, the movement severs any link with anyone who is taken into custody by the authorities, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The logic behind this is simple. A detainee is at the mercy of his captors. He is not a free agent anymore and by inference would only say or act as his captors would ask him. Cases of torture and forcible confessions are commonplace in a country where no one is held to account for the excesses committed on those in custody. In other words, whereas those detained by the Pakistani authorities had some value before their capture, they became irrelevant after the capture.
There is an even more ominous facet to this development. As long as they were free to roam about in Pakistan, some important resistance leaders could have been employed to create a conducive environment for talks between the US and the Taliban. It may be mentioned here that talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government would be of little value. These contacts could have been leveraged for a genuine peace process that would be premised on the complete withdrawal of coalition forces. The moment such influential leaders were captured, their utility in peace negotiations was finished. By this single act of short-sightedness Pakistan destroyed its own credentials for mediation.
The prisoners who have been set free will, therefore, be of no consequence whatsoever in any peace parleys, whether they are initiated by the Afghan government or the Pakistani authorities. Not surprisingly, the Taliban movement has issued a statement denying any links or contacts with those freed and repudiating their claim to represent or speak on behalf of the movement. For many other reasons the freed prisoners would not dare to speak on behalf of the movement. What, then, is the net gain to any side of the release of some detainees?
The only conceivable benefit of this move is a slight improvement in the relations between the two countries. If those freed are handed over to the Afghan authorities they will live in Kabul as “guests” – just as Mutawakkil, Mujahid and other former Taliban leaders have been living on stipends. If they escaped to join the movement, that would be a different scenario.
Another “important” decision of the talks was the creation of an Ulema Council comprising religious scholars from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. This body of scholars will consider appealing to people to refrain from acts such as suicide bombing so that civilian losses can be minimised.
All efforts must be made to reduce civilian losses in any conflict. But such efforts have been made in the past and religious scholars have been commissioned to issue such sermons. To what benefit? These are naive and laughable stratagems that are no substitute for bold decisions that address the root cause of the insurgency – the presence of the coalition forces or, as some would say, the presence of the occupation forces. Conflicts like the Afghan war do not end by through appeals by hired clerics. They end only through acknowledging ground realities and moving on.