Afghans decry release of Taliban prisoners

Local officials say freed rebels have returned to the battlefield; hamper security ahead of NATO troop withdrawal

Released Taliban prisoner leave the main jail in Ghazni on July 20, 2013.
Rahmatullah Alizada/AFP/Getty Images

The release of Taliban loyalists from prisons in Afghanistan and Pakistan has returned rebels to the battlefield, AFP reported Friday, citing Afghan officials concerned for their country's security following the withdrawal of NATO troops in 2014.

"The Taliban who are released rejoin the battlefield," said Zurawar Zahid, police chief of the flashpoint southern province of Ghazni.

"We put our lives in danger to arrest them, but the central government releases them under different pretenses," he added.

Zahid said more than 40 Taliban, including some senior commanders who were recently freed from Ghazni central prison on President Hamid Karzai’s orders, have gone back to the battlefield.

The Afghan government, desperately searching for a way to negotiate peace with the Taliban before NATO troops leave next year, has said that the release of influential rebels could encourage their comrades to the negotiating table. However, the Taliban still refuse to publicly deal with Karzai, branding him a U.S. puppet.

In parts of Afghanistan where Taliban attacks persist, the releases have been met with incomprehension if not anger by local government officials.

Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, deputy provincial governor of Ghazni, said the Taliban releases could not bring security to Afghanistan.

"The central government knows they will rejoin the Taliban again after they are released, it is not going to help the peace process," he said.

The Taliban on Friday claimed responsibility for a car bomb and gunfight outside a U.S. consulate in the western Afghanistan province of Herat that left at least 19 people dead.

Pakistan connection

Afghans have also complained about the manner in which Pakistan has released detainees, without warning and without delivering them to Afghan authorities.

"We don't even know what happens to them after they're released," said Ismail Qasimyar, a senior member of the High Peace Council set up to reach out to the Taliban.

"When they decide to free Taliban, they only inform the Afghan government a few hours before," he added.

Pakistan has begun releasing Taliban prisoners in an attempt to help Afghanistan jumpstart its struggling peace process with the group.

On Tuesday, Pakistan announced that it intends to release its most senior Afghan Taliban detainee, former military leader Abdul Ghani Baradar, who has been described as number two to supreme leader Mullah Omar.

Picked up by Pakistani and American agents in Karachi in early 2010, Afghan and U.S. officials at the time accused Pakistan of sabotaging peace efforts by arresting the reputed moderate.

But nearly four years later, the consequences of his release are deeply uncertain.

"He is no longer as important for the Taliban as he used to be before being arrested," said Rahimullah Yusufzai, a Pakistani journalist known for his reporting on the Taliban.

"Nor will [the Taliban] accept him as a mediator. The Taliban would rather like to watch him before assigning him any role. But I don't think Baradar will be assigned the kind of role that the U.S. and Karzai administrations expect him to be given, to mediate between Kabul and the Taliban," Yusufzai added.

Rather than benefiting peace talks, the releases have perhaps been limited to an attempt to re-establish trust between Kabul and Islamabad, whose relations are clouded by deep distrust.

"It will definitely send strong signals that Pakistan is contributing positively to the peace process," retired Pakistani general Talat Masood told AFP.

"However, this release is not likely to make any significant difference in the negotiating process," he added.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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