This weekend’s swap of Bowe Bergdahl for five Afghan Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo has triggered responses on a large number of fronts. For now, I will leave it to others to sort through whether Obama was required to inform Congress, whether the move provides incentive to the Taliban to capture more prisoners and whether Bergdahl was a deserter. Instead, I want to focus on the fact that this prisoner exchange stands as a significant accomplishment in negotiation among parties who have seen previous attempts at negotiation fail.
Recall that back in early 2012, we first learned that the Afghan Taliban was opening an office in Qatar:
The Taliban said in a surprise announcement last week they had reached a preliminary agreement to set up a political address in Qatar and asked for the release of prisoners held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay.
So the release of Afghan Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo was at the top of the list for setting up the office in Qatar and beginning negotiations. It is also important to note that the Haqqani Network, who held Bergdahl in Pakistan, was also to be included in the talks at the same time that the opening for negotiations was first noted and that Pakistan helped to move things along:
The US has taken Pakistan into confidence over the unprecedented development of allowing the Taliban a political office in Qatar to advance the Afghan reconciliation process, sources revealed.
A senior Pakistani official stated that the Obama administration not only sought Pakistan’s consent over the Taliban office but had also given a ‘green light’ to allow the deadliest Afghan insurgent group, the Haqqani network, to be a part of the reconciliation process.
The move by Washington was a clear deflection from its previous policy of keeping Islamabad at bay over its peace overtures with the Afghan Taliban.
“Yes, we were onboard,” said the senior Pakistani official referring to the latest push by Washington to seek a political settlement of the Afghan conflict.
The process suffered a major setback when the office was found to be flying the flag the Taliban used when they ruled Afghanistan and when the sign on the door seemed to suggest that the Taliban felt they were still the legitimate governing body. Hamid Karzai threw a huge fit over that development, and even though his government hadn’t been invited to the talks, he managed to stall the process. About a year and a half later, things settled down a bit and the provocative sign and flag were removed.
On Tuesday, I noted that Mutasim Agha Jan had gone missing in Dubai while attempting to work toward negotiations between the Afghan Taliban and Afghanistan’s High Peace Council. Multiple outlets now are reporting on the Peace Council having confirmed that Mutasim was indeed detained by authorities in the UAE. Here is Khaama Press on the confirmation:
The Afghan High Council has confirmed that the former Taliban leader Agha Jan Mutasim has been held in United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Agha Jan Mutasim has been missing in United Arab Emirates during the past several days. He was a senior Taliban leader and was supporting the Afghan peace process with the Taliban group.
Afghan High Peace Council following a statement said the detention of Agha Jan Mutasim clarifies that certain elements in the region are disrupting the Afghan peace talks.
The statement further added that those individuals, who are struggling to resume Afghan peace process, have been victimized.
The High Peace Council insisted that Afghan peace talks should take place inside Afghanistan and negotiations have taken place with the UAE officials to end limitations and resolve the issue of Agha Jan Mutasim.
Note that the High Peace Council accuses “certain elements in the region” of “disrupting the Afghan peace talks”. We also get a similar accusation from Karzai’s office. From today’s Washington Post, there is this:
“Known and secret enemies of peace in Afghanistan continue sabotaging our peace process,” Aimal Faizi, Karzai’s spokesman, said Thursday. He did not specify who he thought was responsible, but Afghan officials often accuse neighboring Pakistan of abetting insurgents and stymieing peace efforts.
In that regard, it is very interesting to see an opposition political figure in Pakistan speaking out today against Pakistan’s military supporting the Afghan Taliban: Continue reading
While the mainstream press finally catches up to the fact that there were indeed hundreds of violent attacks on election day in Afghanistan (even though hippies could find the data over a week ago), there is yet another disturbing development in the efforts to hold talks between Afghanistan’s High Peace Council and the Afghan Taliban. I noted nearly a year ago that Mutasim Agha Jan was beginning to bring some attention to a more moderate faction within the Afghan Taliban. He was successful in getting discussions going with the Afghan High Peace Council, but one of his associates, Abdul Raqib, was gunned down in Peshawar in February just after returning from a negotiating session in Dubai. It has now been confirmed that Mutasim Agha Jan has disappeared while in Dubai as he was preparing for another round of talks there. Here is ToloNews on the disappearance:
Agha Jan, who was one of the few crucial Taliban figures that had direct contact with the HPC, lived in Turkey and recently disappeared during a tour to the UAE.
“The government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is aware of Agha Jan’s disappearance in the UAE,” MoFA spokesman Ahmad Shekib Mustaghna said on Monday.
There are rumors about the possibility that Agha Jan may have been abducted. MoFA has not released a statement in regards to the rumors, but has called the circumstances surrounding the disappearance ambiguous and questionable.
Over the past month, Agha Jan had met with the HPC delegation twice; both sides had agreed to continue peace discussions.
There is a very interesting bit of language in the Khaama Press story on the disappearance:
The ministry of foreign affairs of Afghanistan confirmed that the former senior Taliban leader Agha Jan Mutasim has gone missing in United Arab Emirates.
Foreign ministry spokesman, Shekib Mostaghni told reporters in Kabul that the Afghan officials have started negotiations with the UAE officials regarding the fate of Agha Jan Mutasim.
Mr. Mostaghni further added that the government of Afghanistan has stepped up efforts to take practical steps to find out Agha Jan Mutasim.
Normally, I would attribute that bit about “negotiations with UAE officials” as poor translation from an initial story about Afghan officials speaking to UAE officials simply to ask questions. But there is also this report in the Express Tribune:
Last week, Mutasim’s family sources and friends confirmed to The Express Tribune that they have lost contact with him in Dubai. They were concerned that the UAE authorities might have detained and shifted Mutasim to an undisclosed location in Abu Dhabi.
The Express Tribune article also makes it clear that he has been missing for quite a while:
After a mysterious silence for nearly two weeks, the Afghan foreign ministry on Monday confirmed that Mutasim is missing in the UAE. “The Afghan government confirms that Agha Jan Mutasim has disappeared in the UAE and we are talking to senior Emirati officials to know his fate,” spokesman Ahmed Shakaib Mustaghni said in Kabul.
“The talks, unfortunately, have not yet produced any results and we do not have any more details,” Mustaghni told a weekly press briefing, according to the recorded version of the briefing received here.
So it would indeed appear that Afghanistan may be in some sort of negotiations with UAE on the fate of Mutasim. But since we don’t have confirmation yet that he actually is under UAE control, we could be back to the list of suspects I discussed in the death of Abdul Raqib also being suspects in this case as well (but read here for a pretty strong argument that Taliban hardliners were responsible for Raqib’s death). I will keep an eye out for further developments on Mutasim’s location and safety.
Reuters reports that after the final French combat troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan on Saturday, Paris will host a meeting this week between the Afghan high peace council and the Taliban. It appears that talks have been ongoing for some time, but it is quite encouraging that the parties are now willing for it to be announced publicly that the discussions are taking place. From the Reuters story:
France said on Sunday officials from the Afghan government, the Taliban rebel movement and other factions would meet this week near Paris to discuss the country’s future as NATO troops prepare to pull out in 2014.
Speaking on RFI radio, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, whose country withdrew the last of its combat troops from Afghanistan on Saturday, said Afghan President Hamid Karzai had given his green light to the meeting.
“Discreet talks have been taking place between different factions for three years,” Fabius said.
“If you want peace, it’s usually between people who don’t agree, and over there they don’t talk to each other. So there will be discussions, but it won’t be negotiations.”
The story goes on to point out that both the exact date and location for the meeting will not be disclosed and that the location will be “entirely closed off”.
We get more on the meetings from Afghanistan’s Khaama Press:
A senior Afghan high peace council official said three members of the council will attend the Paris conference.
Abdul Hakim Mujahid a former Taliban group member and Haji Din Mohammad advisor to president Hamid Karzai are among the three officials who attend and meet the Taliban group members.
Farhadullah a spokesman for the Afghan high peace council said Afghan peace delegates will clarify the stance of Afghan peace council regarding the peace negotiations in Paris conference.
Meanwhile Abdul Hakim Mujahid who was presenting the Taliban group in United Nations and is currently a member of the Afghan high peace council said they will hold direct talks with the Taliban group members during the summit.
Mr. Mujahid said the conference is based on Afghanistan and only Afghans should decided how to resolve the current crisis and war in the country.
Significantly, the Reuters piece points out that the Northern Alliance also will be taking part in the meetings. Recall that the US supported the Northern Alliance in the overthrow of the Taliban after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Missing from both stories is any mention of US involvement in the peace talks. Instead, the US appears to be spending its energy at the current time trying to negotiate an agreement with Afghanistan that will provide blanket immunity for US troops staying beyond the planned end of 2014 end of combat operations by coalition forces. Also, Washington is consumed with developing a plan for how many of these US troops will remain behind and what their roles will be. Apparently, these efforts are a higher priority to the Obama administration than negotiating a peace that would make our presence unnecessary.