June 2, 2014 by Darius
The recent prisoner exchange between the US and the Taliban saw captured US soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl released after being held by the Taliban for five years. In exchange, five senior Taliban officials were transferred from Guantanamo to Qatar. They will remain in Qatar for a year and then be released. Looking past the political posturing of US Republicans and Afghan officials, who are put out that they were not consulted, exactly who were the five members of the Taliban released?
- Khirullah Khairkhwa was a founding member of the Taliban and governor of Herat province when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. He was considered a moderate within the Taliban and a close friend of President Karzai. Some hold up hopes that he could serve as a negotiator between the Taliban and the US government.
- The second of the five is Mullah Mohammad Fazl Mazloom, who was commander of all Taliban forces in northern Afghanistan at the time of the US invasion. He is thought to be responsible for massacring thousands of Tajiks and Shias during the Taliban’s time in power – which is especially awkward given that the likely next president of Afghanistan identifies as Tajik. However, Afghans and Americans aren’t the only ones who have a problem with Fazl: he’s extremely unpopular with Iran and Russia too as he was implicated in the execution of eight Iranian diplomats and was involved with Chechen rebels.
- The third Taliban official released, Mullah Noorullah Noori, was governor of another province and surrendered with Fazl to the Northern Alliance after the US invasion. (The Northern Alliance turned both men over to US authorities.)
- Abdul Haq Wasiq was the Taliban’s intelligence deputy.
- The final man released, Abdul Nabi Omari, was a minor member of the Taliban who actually claimed to be doing covert intelligence work for the US; he is believed to have links to the Haqqani network, though, which was the group reportedly holding Bergdahl.
While it’s extremely difficult to take Republican protests of the deal as anything more than cynical political griping, it is easier to understand why Afghan president Hamid Karzai is ticked off that his government wasn’t consulted. After all, he and his countrymen have to live with the consequences of the decision. However, it is important to note that as recently as 2011, the Afghan High Peace Council, a consultative body appointed by President Karzai, formally requested that the US release all of these men, save Omari who was considered by everyone but the US to be a bit player, as a good-will gesture. Yesterday, the Afghan High Peace Council got its wish. If everyone else got theirs remains to be seen.