Monday 19 March 2012

Taliban talks breakdown over Bergdahl exchange?

Florian Flade, who writes the very useful Jih@d website, is the latest to suggest that Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier held by the Haqqani Network in Pakistan, is the 'Western hostage' who was being lined up for release in exchange for five high-ranking Taliban prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay. A negative political reaction to the deal in Washington is the likely reason talks with the Taliban broke down last week.
Flade notes that on 31 January the Obama Administration briefed US Senate leaders that a prisoner transfer deal was being considered. In exchange for an unnamed hostage, the five Taliban leaders slated for release to house arrest in Qatar were due to include former Taliban interior minister Mullah Khair Khowa, former provincial governor Noorullah Noori and former commander Mullah Fazul Akhund.
However, the reaction from the eight Senate leaders was lukewarm to say the least; most refused to comment directly on the deal or to confirm Bergdahl's participation, but several made negative-sounding comments: "If it's intended to be a ‘confidence-building measure,' that is an extreme measure. If it's a swap, it's worthy of consideration of Congress, if that is the premise of it," said Senator John McCain.
Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein said "These are major Taliban figures, they are not minor people. And they will not be in the same kind of custody, maximum-security custody. Forget that it won't be Guantánamo, just maximum-security custody," she said. "And in my view, there's no way of knowing what they may do and what kind of propaganda they may breed."
This negative reaction to the proposed deal is the likely reason that the Taliban broke off negotiations with the Americans last week.
As the Taliban noted in a formal statement on its own website last Thursday: "the political envoys of the Islamic Emirate agreed upon the inauguration of a diplomatic office, the arrangement about which was already made with the government of Qatar and started holding preliminary talks with the occupying enemy over the exchange of prisoners. The Americans initially agreed upon taking practical steps regarding the exchange of prisoners and to not oppose our political office but with the passage of time, they turned their backs on their promises and started initiating baseless propaganda portraying the envoys of the Islamic Emirate as having commenced multilateral negotiations for solving the Afghan dilemma."
Clearly pissed off with the apparent backtracking by the Americans, the Taliban added: "the Islamic Emirate has decided to suspend all talks with Americans taking place in Qatar from today onwards until the Americans clarify their stance on the issues concerned and until they show willingness in carrying out their promises instead of wasting time."
Bergdahl has been held by the Taliban since 20 June 2009, when he walked out of a military outpost in Paktika and disappeared. Since then the Taliban has issued five videos featuring him. In most of these videos Bergdahl appears to be somewhat cooperative with his captors, although his family and supporters deny this. He has spoken critically of US foreign policy and there are unconfirmed reports that he has converted to Islam. In his last video he was wearing a long beard. His captor is thought to be Mullah Sangin Zadran, a powerful warlord loyal to the Haqqanis from the Zadran tribe that straddles the Afghan border and into North Waziristan.

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