Spectre of thousands of freed Taliban hangs over Afghan peace talks

Spectre of thousands of freed Taliban hangs over Afghan peace talks

“Mohammed Gul” insists he was never a member of the Afghan Taliban, even though he was one of 5,000 inmates released by the government as a condition to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table.

But if the peace talks fail, Mr Gul says he might consider signing up.

He would not be the only freed prisoner taking up arms against the government despite international efforts to end nearly two decades of the Taliban’s brutal insurgency.

A study of 108 freed prisoners found 68 per cent “have already been reintegrated into the Taliban and have resumed active roles in the conflict, or are in Taliban groups intent on resuming fighting”, Foreign Policy magazine reported.

The report was quoting unpublished research by the Afghan Peace Dialogue Project.

These figures and accounts from civilians and security forces have raised concern about the peace process among Afghan analysts and political stakeholders, especially if the talks drag on or collapse.

The negotiations, expected to begin any day in Qatar, are already months behind schedule, delayed by bickering between the government and Taliban over the terms of the prisoner release.

“Delays can create some incentives for the released prisoners to rejoin in the absence of an integration programme that can keep them away from the fighting,” said Said Ibrahimi, a researcher at the Centre on International Co-operation.

“However, if the talks fail it will be a recipe for disaster. It will not only facilitate the released prisoners to rejoin the Taliban but it can also create avenues for new recruits.”

The Afghan government has indicated that it is prepared for worst-case scenarios, but it is unclear what this entails.

The government has been making contact with local militia leaders such as Nizamuddin Qaisari, the notorious police chief in the north who evaded arrest last year after his gunmen clashed with security forces.

“The government is allowing some local militias and uprisings against the Taliban to take root in the country,” Mr Ibrahimi said.

“These measures are not new and have not been sustainable in the past.”

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