The question is why the five were released without any commitments to a larger agreement, under which the Taliban would renounce international terrorism, and begin a process of reconciliation with the government of Afghanistan.

That condition had been at the heart of the original discussions with the Taliban about a prisoner swap in 2011 and early 2012. It was abandoned last year, administration officials now say, because the Taliban were no longer interested in a broader deal — probably because the Taliban understood American forces were leaving. Now, both in Afghanistan and in Washington, there are questions about whether the release of the five men gives the Taliban legitimacy, and enhances their power over a weak government in Kabul…

In background conversations last week, administration officials admitted that they had abandoned their plans to make the prisoner release the start of a larger set of negotiations. With the Taliban unwilling to engage, President Obama had determined, according to one official, “that you couldn’t let the hopes of an eventual peace deal get in the way of the objective of getting Bergdahl home.” About a week before the swap was announced, Afghan officials said the Americans began dropping hints that something was afoot. The Afghans were, at that point, still hoping that the American plan involved more than a prisoner trade, but the officials said it quickly became clear the Americans had no plan beyond bringing home Sergeant Bergdahl.

“Even if they were keeping it a secret — the peace talks — and pretending that the trade was just a trade, we could be fine with that,” the Afghan security official said. “But what has happened is worse than nothing: We are made to look weaker, and the Taliban is stronger.”