‘TALIBAN FIVE’ RELEASED FROM GUANTANAMO JOIN QATAR-BASED TALKS TEAM
▶ Freed from notorious prison in exchange for a US deserter, the men’s promotion shows the group bringing back its ‘old generation,’ says analyst
Five senior Taliban leaders freed from Guantanamo Bay in return for a captured American soldier have joined the militants’ Qatari office responsible for Afghanistan peace talks.
The five men, who spent more than a decade in the US military prison, will now be part of the Taliban delegation during attempts to find a political settlement to the country’s conflict.
America has intensified its push to start tentative negotiations, with senior US officials having met Taliban envoys twice in recent months.
The militants’ appointment of the so-called Taliban Five came just days after the release from Pakistani jail of another senior Taliban figure, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was linked to potential talks.
Pakistan’s Kabul embassy told local media that the release of the Taliban’s former No 2 after eight years in prison had been to help start a peace process.
Abdul Hakim Mujahid, who was envoy to the UN during the Taliban regime, said all five Taliban leaders now joining the Qatar office were well respected by the movement’s rank and file.
“Their word carries weight with the Taliban leadership and the mujahideen,” he said.
Each man had been a significant figure in the Taliban regime before it was ousted in 2001 and their Guantanamo intelligence files described them as being “high risk” to the US and its allies.
Khairullah Khairkhwa, a former Taliban interior minister and governor of Herat province, was close to Taliban founder Mullah Omar and Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Human Rights Watch accused Mohammed Fazl, the former Taliban army chief of staff, of overseeing the deaths of thousands of minority Shiites in 2000.
The others are: Abdul Haq Wasiq, once deputy intelligence minister; Mullah Norullah Nori, a former provincial governor; and Mohammad Nabi Omari.
The five were released in 2014 in return for Sgt Bowe Bergdahl, who became America’s only prisoner of war in the Afghan conflict after he walked off his base and was captured in 2009.
The prisoner swap was criticised by senior Republicans at the time for freeing “the hardest of the hardcore” Taliban.
The five are believed to have lived in Qatar since their release, but until now have been under severe restrictions and unable to join the diplomatic office.
“Taliban are bringing back their old generation, which means the Taliban have not changed their thinking or their leadership,” said Haroun Mir, a political analyst in Kabul.
The Afghan government is so far not involved in the preliminary talks, because the Taliban refuse to meet what they claim is a puppet administration.
Mr Mir said Ashraf Ghani’s government was so divided, it was uncertain who could represent it if talks progressed.
Baradar has been touted as a potential negotiator. He was reportedly held by Pakistan in 2010 because Islamabad was angry at his unauthorised overtures to Kabul.
But it is not yet clear how much influence he retains after eight years in prison, or where he will live.
The prisoner swap was criticised by senior Republicans at the time for freeing ‘the hardest of the hardcore’ Taliban
Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mohammad Fazl