The Taliban has named a 14-member team of negotiators, including five former Guantanamo Bay inmates and a high-profile jailed leader, for the second round of talks with the United States.
With the move announced on Tuesday, the group has pushed for the release of Anas Haqqani, younger brother of the leader of the powerful Taliban faction, Haqqani network. He is currently held in a jail in Afghanistan‘s capital, Kabul.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said Haqqani “should be released to start work on the negotiating team”. He said Haqqani “was a student at the time of his arrest and was not involved in any activity for which he should be arrested”.
The Taliban negotiating team has been announced in advance of talks this month with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been meeting with the armed group in Qatar’s capital Doha to try to end America’s longest war.
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai will head the team, which includes five former inmates of the US prison at Guantanamo Bay who were released in 2014 in exchange for US Sergeant. Bowe Bergdahl, captured by the Taliban in 2009 after wandering off his base.
The Taliban have been demanding Haqqani’s release since talks to end the Afghan war began last year.
The Haqqani network has not been openly involved in talks with the US envoy, except to send three representatives to a meeting in the United Arab Emirates in December.
That meeting reportedly touched on the issue of prisoners, including Anas Haqqani and two professors from the American University in Kabul – US citizen Kevin King and Timothy Weeks, an Australian – who are believed to be held by the Haqqani network.
More on Obama’s boys via Military Times:
Human Rights Watch accused Mohammed Fazl, the former Taliban army chief arrested in 2002, of overseeing the deaths of thousands of minority Shiites in 2000. The massacre outraged the world and followed the killing the year before of an estimated 2,000 young ethnic Pashtuns in northern Afghanistan by Taliban rivals.
Another of the five is Khairullah Khairkhwa, a former governor of Herat province, who was close to both Taliban founder Mullah Omar and al- Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Khairkhwa also had a friendship with former president Hamid Karzai.
The others include Abdul Haq Wasiq, deputy intelligence minister, Mullah Norullah Nori, once described as the most significant Taliban leader held at Guantanamo Bay because of his particularly close relationship with Mullah Omar, who fought U.S.-led coalition forces in northern Afghanistan’s Mazar-e-Sharif and Mohammad Nabi Omari, a Taliban communications officer.
All five are from southern Afghanistan, the Taliban’s heartland.
The five Taliban were released in 2014 in exchange for Bergdahl during the administration of President Barack Obama after drawn out negotiations.
Bergdahl, who had been held in Taliban custody since 2009 when he wandered off a U.S. army base, was given a dishonorable discharge last year and fined $1,000 on charges of desertion and misbehavior.
Update: The New York Times confirms, in a Taliban puff piece, that Once Jailed in Guantánamo, 5 Taliban Now Face U.S. at Peace Talks.
…in a stark demonstration of the twists and contradictions of the long American involvement in Afghanistan, five of those men are sitting across a negotiating table from their former captors, part of the Taliban team discussing the terms of an American troop withdrawal.
The five senior Taliban officials were held at Guantánamo for 13 years before catching a lucky break in 2014. They were exchanged for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only known American service member to be held by the insurgents as a prisoner of war.
In recent months, as the American and militants took up intense negotiations to try to end the conflict in Afghanistan, the Taliban leadership made a point of including the former prisoners. Each day during the recent round of talks in Doha, Qatar, the five men sat face to face with American diplomats and generals.
In some of the sessions sitting across the table from the former Guantánamo detainees was Gen. Austin S. Miller, the commander of the American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, in his four-star uniform. Last October, General Miller narrowly escaped death in an attack by a Taliban infiltrator that killed a prominent Afghan security chief, Gen. Abdul Raziq, who had been walking beside him in a heavily guarded compound in Kandahar Province.
According to several officials on both sides who knew details of the talks, General Miller told the Taliban that he respected them as fighters, but that the war needed to end. He also evoked a mutual need to fight the terrorism of the Islamic State.
“We could keep fighting, keep killing each other,” General Miller was quoted as saying. “Or, together, we could kill ISIS.”
So we do negotiate with terrorists.