The US-Taliban Prisoner Swap

Posted June 6th, 2014 at 3:30 pm (UTC+0)
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Obama Captured SoldierU.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Berghdal is pictured in handout photo provided by U.S. Army

by Niala Mohammad

On May 31st, 2014 the US-Taliban prisoner swap took place, just weeks after President Barack Obama announced his withdrawal strategy from Afghanistan. Reactions about the prisoner exchange have been mixed. Dr. Marvin Weinbaum, a senior Afghanistan analyst at the Middle East Institute told Deewa Radio that although Americans applaud the release of the American soldier, they are critical of the terms and conditions under which the exchange took place. However, it may seem that the suspicion of the terms and conditions have overridden feelings of joy for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s release. There has been a drastic drop in support for Bergdahl, the local hero of Hailey, Idaho. Rumors of Bergdahl deserting his post and fears that he has “gone native” have swept social media where #BergdahlTraitor is trending on Twitter.  In fact, Bowe Bergdahl’s hometown has cancelled his homecoming celebrations due to security concerns.

Initiating Talks

Many think that the exchange took place as a show of good will, in order to initiate talks. Anand Gopal, a fellow at the New America Foundation and author of “No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes”, told Deewa Radio that the exchange creates the possibility of promoting talks between the US and the Taliban.

On the other hand, many consider this exchange as undermining of the authority of the Afghan Government. President Hamid Karzai, has been particularly disturbed by what he refers to as a “secret” exchange and was quoted in Reuters by a source from the presidential palace saying, “How come the prisoner exchange worked out so well, when the Afghan peace process failed to make any significant progress?”.

karzai obama

Propaganda Victory

The Taliban view the prisoner exchange as a “major propaganda victory”, says Anand Gopal. In fact, the Taliban produced videos of the prisoner exchange has gone viral. One such video of the 5 detainees arriving in Qatar is dubbed over with “Jihadi music”, with vocals and lyrics in Pashto such as “Marhaba, bandi janana khi raghley, wayam tabriki janana khi raghley” (Translation: Welcome and good tiding imprisoned soul, I say congratulations and good tidings) welcoming the prisoners back. Taliban spokesman Mujahid told VOA reporter Ayaz Gul in Islamabad that shortly after posting the video, their website “Voice of Jihad” went down for a few hours due to overwhelming visitor traffic.

Dr. Marvin Weinbaum stated, “It’s not surprising that the Taliban would use this exchange to suggest that perhaps they have scored a victory. But in realistic terms it doesn’t change anything on the ground. It’s going to be very difficult to say that somehow that this has boosted moral to the point where they become a more effective fighting force.”

The Future of the Released Detainees

What is the guarantee that the released prisoners; Mullah Mohammad Fazil (also known amongst his peers as “Mazlum” or oppressed-an ironic title for a man with an alleged human rights violations record), Noorullah Noori, Khairullah Khairkhwa, Abdul Haq Wasiq, and Mohammad Nabi Omari will not rejoin the Taliban? The fact is that there is no guarantee that they won’t re-join the Taliban. However, Anand Gopal mentioned that “over the years there have been 12 or 13 high ranking Taliban who have been released from Guantanamo; most of them have returned to civilian life but there are a couple of prominent exceptions who rejoined the fight.”

But even if these men were to rejoin the Taliban, what would their impact be now? Kate Clark, a senior member of the Afghan Analyst Network told VOA reporter Ayaz Gul in Islamabad, “If they were extremely important people in 2001, we do not know what they are now, what sort of men they are now. They have been in detention for 13 years. They have been away from a movement that has changed erratically. They Taliban now is very, very different from how it was in 2001.” 

Indeed the Taliban is very different from what it was in 2001, time will tell how much authority and recognition they gain worldwide or lose amongst their peers from this exchange. 

Links for VOA Deewa Radio interviews with Dr. Marvin Weinbaum and Anand Gopal

Niala IV with Dr Marvin Weinbaum on Prisoner Exchange

Niala IV with Anand Gopal on Prisoner Exchange

“Analysts Unclear on Impact of Taliban Prisoner Release” by Ayaz Gul (VOA Islamabad)


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