US courts Taliban with ‘high risk’ prisoner exchange

A Taliban prisoner is searched, handcuffed, and processed by members of 1st Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (AFP Photo / John D McHugh)
The US plans to transfer several key Taliban figures from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for a US POW, reports Reuters. Washington seeks to curry favor with the terrorist organization with the new concession in a bid to open the door to negotiations.

The new initiative would see all five terrorist leaders transferred to Qatar in a gesture of goodwill to the Taliban, Reuters says, citing anonymous sources.      

The US had previously offered the transfer of the five senior members of the Taliban in two blocs, the second bloc only to be relinquished if the group released Sgt Bowe Bergdahl.

Sgt Bergdahl disappeared from a US military base in Afghanistan in 2009 and is currently believed to be held hostage by the Haqqani network, a terrorist group affiliated with the Taliban. He is currently the only US prisoner of war.

Since his capture the Taliban have released a number of videos showing Bergdahl. They have made a number of ransom demands, including $1 million and the release of 21 Afghan prisoners, most of whom are being held at Guantanamo bay. The terrorist group has threatened a number of times to execute the sergeant if their demands are not met.

Both the Obama administration and Bergdahl’s family have refrained from commenting on the new transfer plans, say Reuters.

The US is seeking to ingratiate itself with the terrorist organization, using the prisoners as bargaining chips to reboot negotiations with the Taliban.

The Taliban suspended talks with the US back in March, citing US “ever-changing policies” as the main reason behind their withdrawal from negotiations.

US negotiations with the Taliban have been fraught with stumbling blocks. America has demanded that the Taliban accept the Afghan constitution and denounce Al-Qaeda, while the group does not accept the legitimacy of the Karzai government and regards dialogue with Kabul as “pointless.”


Playing with fire

The attempt to coax the Taliban to the negotiating table has been met with stiff opposition in Washington, with many resisting the idea of handing over “high-risk” detainees to the terrorist group.

Of the five to be put forward for the exchange, Mullah Mohammed Fazl is the individual that has sparked most concern on the part of the US government. The former Afghan minister of defense is thought to be responsible for the massacre of thousands of Shiite Muslims and be embroiled in drug trafficking.

The other prisoners include former interior minister Khairullah Khairkhwa, ex-military commander Noorullah Noori and former Intelligence Minister Abdul Haq Wasiq.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta sought to allay fears in June, assuring that measures would be taken, should the exchange take place, “to certify the men did not pose a danger.”

“There are no specific commitments that have been made with regard to prisoner exchanges at this point. One thing I will assure you is that any prisoner exchanges that I have to certify are going to abide by the law and require that those individuals do not return back into the battle,”
said Panetta.

The US currently holds 17 members of the Taliban at Guantanamo Bay. Both the Taliban and Karzai government are lobbying for the release of all 17 prisoners.

President Karzai views US detention of the suspected terrorists as undermining his authority as a leader and believes that “Afghanistan’s own institutions should deal with captured insurgents.”