Islamabad —The Afghan Taliban appointed five of its senior members to its political office in Doha, Qatar, raising the likelihood that the group—recognized by many countries as a terrorist organization—will enter into peace talks with the United States.
Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told The Media Line that the five leaders are: Mullah Norullah Nori, Mohammed Nabi Omari, Mohammed Fazl, Khairullah Khairkhwa and Abdul Haq Wasiq. All of them were held in the US’ Guantanamo Bay Naval Base prison (known as “Gitmo”) for 13 years for hostile acts against US forces. They were released in a 2014 prisoner swap under the Obama administration.
In that exchange, the US released the five for US Private Robert “Bowe” Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban in 2009 while serving in Afghanistan.
Known as the “Gitmo five,” the released prisoners were high-ranking federal cabinet members of the Taliban government, which was toppled by the US-led military coalition in 2001.
Mujahid added that an exclusive meeting held in Doha last week united the Gitmo five with Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the head of the Taliban’s political wing.
Stanikzai reportedly welcomed them, adding that Afghanistan is passing through a very fragile stage
and their leadership will be important in strengthening the Taliban’s political clout.
“These leaders bear a great deal of influence and have gained the respect of today’s Taliban fighters,” Mujahid added. The five were also supposedly close allies of al-Qa’ida leaders Osama Bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as well as of the Haqqani Network, an Afghan insurgent group with ties to the Taliban.
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Speaking about their release, former Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai told the press last week that the five leaders are “good people” who should participate in negotiations to end the 17-year conflict with the US
“The majority of them I know personally, and they are good people, so I hope that this appointment will be good for peace in Afghanistan, and we will work with them by all means towards that objective,” Karzai said during an interview with Associated Press.
Earlier this month, Karzai tweeted that he would oppose any deal between the US and Pakistan involving Afghanistan, adding that peace negotiations need to involve regional powers, most notably Russia, China and Iran.
Karzai is scheduled to attend a summit on the Afghan peace process involving the Taliban’s political team in Moscow at the end of this week.
Yousaf Saha, Karzai’s spokesman, told The Media Line that Karzai will travel to the Russian capital “because any opportunity for peace talks with the Taliban must not be ignored.”
Syed Abdul Rahim Mansoori, a former deputy intelligence chief during Karzai’s government who is now living in exile, told The Media Line that “American tax-payers and politicians well understand that despite spending trillions of dollars, Afghanistan’s war has been unsuccessful and unproductive. With zero achievements to date, they opted for direct peace talks with the Afghan Taliban.”
Mansoori added that after so many years of war, the Taliban still controls more than 60 percent of Afghanistan.
“The Americans seem to have lost their will for confrontation and are exhausted. Now, they are well aware that Afghan crises do not require military solutions, but negotiations. Bringing US officials to the negotiating table has been a victory for the Taliban,” Mansoori said.
Muhammad Sohail Shaheen, a former deputy head of the Afghan Embassy in Pakistan who is presently serving as the Taliban’s spokesperson in Doha, told The Media Line that “from the first day, it was our stance that 17-year-long war can only be brought to an end via direct talks with the US.”
In his first interview since taking command of NATO’s Resolute Support mission in September, Austin S. Miller, the US’ commander in Afghanistan, commented that war cannot be won militarily and that peace will only be achieved through a political resolution with the Taliban.
“My assessment is the Taliban also realize they cannot win militarily. I think now is the time to start working through the political piece of this conflict,” Miller said.
Yet the conflict continues to take lives on both sides. Recently, American forces have faced “insider attacks” from members of Afghan security forces working alongside them.
In October, an Afghan bodyguard opened fire during a meeting between Miller and local Afghan leaders in Kandahar province. The attacker killed three senior provincial officials and wounded three American soldiers. Miller, however, was unharmed.
Just last weekend, US Army Major Brent Taylor was shot and killed by a member of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces inside a Kabul military camp. Afghan forces responded to the attack by killing the perpetrator.
Taylor was the mayor of North Ogden, a town of about 17,400 people in northern Utah. He paused his mayoral responsibilities to participate in his fourth military deployment after previously serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, totaling more than 12 years in the US army.
Miller expressed deep sorrow over Taylor’s death, saying it is “a loss for his family, friends, colleagues, our country and this mission, and his service is an example for all of us.”
In 2001, the US held the Taliban-dominated Afghan government responsible for harboring the terrorists who masterminded the 9/11 attacks in the US In the same year, the US launched a military campaign to remove the Taliban from power. Since the conflict erupted, many of the Taliban’s leaders relocated to Pakistan, though some are now returning to Afghanistan as the hostilities begin to subside.
Analysts estimate the number of Taliban fighters and those sympathetic with its movement to be as high as 70,000.
During their time in power, the Taliban, who adhere to a strict interpretation of Islam, banned music and prohibited girls from achieving an education. They also required women to wear burqas, while enforcing their various decrees through executions and violent means.
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