In the run-up to the third round of the intra-Afghan talks to be reportedly held on November 21 in China’s capital city of Beijing, the national unity government has took a huge political risk as it announced the release a leader of the Taliban’s Haqqani militant faction and two other commanders in exchange for two university professors, American Kevin King and Austrian Timothy Weeks. They leadership of the government had described the decision of release “hard but necessary.” The prisoner swap didn’t, in fact, happen as scheduled. The Taliban are blaming the US for the failed prisoner swap between the two adversaries, saying the American side did not show up at a mutually agreed-upon venue.
However, President Ghani’s announcement was praised by the international community as a humanitarian gesture but, at the same time, it also led to widespread speculation that the deal was faux because the prisoner swap had already occurred and that the three insurgent prisoners had been flown to Qatar to join the Taliban’s political office there. There were also conflicting reports of them arriving in the said location; however, the recent updates show there is no clue about the whereabouts of the inmates. This is while a day after the announcement, which was seen to deter‘intensified attacks’, a car bombing in Kabul city killed 12 people and injured another 20, including foreigners. Although no military group claimed responsibility for the attack, the recent move by Ghani was scorned as an insult to the victims of the terror attacks carried out by the militants in Afghanistan over the years.
The prisoner exchange deal, seen as a confidence-building measure with the insurgent group, is the bitter price that the Afghan government is willing to pay in order to secure direct talks with the Taliban, who have so far refused to engage with what it calls an illegitimate ‘puppet’ regime. Currently, as the deal has fallen apart, it is unknown which one of the conflicting parties reneged on their promise. However, at this juncture, theAfghan government and the US should again weigh out the risks associated with the release of the insurgent commanders. It should try to mitigate them if they couldn’t beavoided altogether. The most dangerous possibility of them all is of the rebel commanders returning to the battlefield. Meanwhile, as two inmates are going to be given up in exchange for three, this provides the Taliban with a propaganda victory, taking their fighters’ morale to its peak who are further convinced that they are on the right side. The most important matter is that how hardly Afghans conceded the prisoner swap idea thinking that it could help restart the stalled US-Taliban peace negotiations and finally put an end to the Afghan war. As much as it’s seen as key to the success of the intra-Afghan, two-day peace conference in China, this enterprise should be thoroughly revisited; otherwise, in case the plan goes sideways, it would prove catastrophic for Afghans, who always pay the price for the decisions of the higher-ups.