Released Taliban Prisoners Return to Battlefield; What about the Guarantee?

According to the Ministry of Interior, out of a total of more than 5,000 Taliban prisoners that were released, 580 have returned to the battlefield. According to the ministry, a number of these prisoners, after returning to the battlefield, were killed in clashes with government forces. The Ministry of Interior did not disclose how these statistics were obtained.

The release of a group of Taliban prisoners was one of the most thorny and controversial issues in the country before the start of the intra-Afghan talks. The Americans had been pressuring the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners before the start of the peace negotiations, following to the Doha Agreement. Ashraf Ghani, the head of the national unity government at the time, reacted sharply in a statement on Monday, March 1 2019, that Afghanistan was under no obligation to release the 5,000 Taliban prisoners. He said this at a news conference in Kabul a day after the signing of the Doha Agreement between the United States and the Taliban. However, eight days later, on March 9, Ghani, who had just been sworn in as the new president, changed his mind and announced that he would issue a decree for the release of 5,000 prisoners. The same year, the decree was issued and the Taliban prisoners were released.

Spokespersons for the presidency and the National Security Council have repeatedly stated that the government plan on the release of Taliban prisoners was in accordance with agreements in which they did not play any role. This position was later reformulated, with the government announcing that it would release Taliban prisoners as a “goodwill gesture” on two conditions: 1) the release of prisoners must result in ceasefire, and 2) after their release, in compliance with a guarantee, they would not return to the battlefield. The Afghan people, when they saw that the release of prisoners was not without conditions, finally agreed with the decision to release these prisoners.

The National Security Council, which was responsible for implementing the release of Taliban prisoners, announced in a statement that the prisoners had “sworn” that they would not return to the battlefield. The Council also said that the same “commitment” had been made by the Taliban’s political office in Qatar to the government. However, what the government had earlier referred to as a “guarantee” offered to the people for the sake of peace has yet to be practically implemented. Even if such a guarantee existed, it was not officially shared with the media and the public. For the same reason, now that months have passed since the release of Taliban prisoners, no one knows for sure under what guarantee the prisoners were released from behind bars.

Zalmai Khalilzad, the US special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, told the Afghan media several months ago that the people should not worry about the release of Taliban prisoners from government custody. He stressed that the Taliban must guarantee that the group’s released prisoners do not return to the battlefield. Khalilzad never elaborated on what the guarantee should be and what new arrangements would be made in the event of prisoners returning to the battlefield. Khalilzad insisted that the prisoners should be released and that this would pave the way for the start of intra-Afghan talks.

The government, subject to US pressure, released the Taliban prisoners. Among the released prisoners, 400 of them were described as “dangerous”, and were released after approval by voting from the Loya Jirga. Among those counted as “dangerous”, 180 were identified as international drug traffickers. Ghani warned that with the release of these prisoners, drug trafficking could become more global in its reach.

Observations on the ground indicate that no conditions of the government have been met for the release of Taliban prisoners. Ceasefire and a reduction in violence, which were important conditions placed by the state, have not been implemented. On the same note, the released prisoners, who swore not to fight again, did not remain sincere and returned to the battlefield instead of going back to their homes. The only thing that has been achieved by the release of prisoners is the beginning of peace talks, but these have not seen any progress.

Therefore, the government must question the United States about the seriousness of the guarantees given by the Taliban. Of course, we also know that the Taliban have repeatedly said that the prisoners in this group have not been released under any guarantee. In that case, the people should also ask the government under what guarantee were Taliban prisoners released and why they have failed to comply with it. If there is no guarantee in this regard, then question that arises is, why was such a lie told to the people? All of these are questions that the government must answer.

On the other hand, the government’s position on the return of Taliban prisoners to the battlefields must be clarified. The government has repeatedly spoken of the return of these prisoners to the battlefield, but has not taken a stand on the issue. The government cannot relieve itself of responsibility solely by providing information and statistics and saying that the return of Taliban prisoners is a violation of the group’s commitment. The government must put all options to the test in order to make the Taliban comply with its commitments. This is something that people are waiting for from their government and it has to be addressed.