Afghanistan prepares to release some Taliban prisoners

When the “peace deal” with the Taliban was first announced, there were immediate signs that it was going to be problematic at best. Among the many sticking points was the demand by the Taliban that all prisoners be exchanged before they would even agree to talk with the current, US-backed government of the country. President Ashraf Ghani’s delegation didn’t want to release any prisoners until formal talks were underway and a framework for a lasting peace was at least sketched out. And it’s still unclear if Ghani is even the president to begin with since his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah also had himself sworn in. (What a mess.)

It looks like Ghani’s people blinked first. He’s signed a conditional order to release 1,500 of the estimated 5,000 Taliban prisoners currently being held by the government. (Associated Press)

After a series of delays, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued a decree early Wednesday promising to release 1,500 Taliban prisoners as a goodwill gesture to get intra-Afghan negotiations started.

A recent peace deal signed between the United States and the Taliban called for the release of up to 5,000 prisoners ahead of the much sought-after negotiations.

There was no official response from the Taliban, but The Associated Press saw a letter that Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, the head of the Taliban’s Prisoners Commission, sent to the prisoners, their families and Taliban leaders promising there would be no intra-Afghan talks until all the prisoners are released.

The offer is being described as a goodwill gesture, designed to get the Taliban to come to the table. The reason it’s a “conditional” offer is that the prisoners chosen for release will be selected by virtue of how long they’ve been in captivity, their age, and a few other factors. Also, they have to cross their hearts and pinky-swear that they won’t return to the field of battle. I’m sure that will solve everything. (/sarc)

And what will Ghani’s government get in return? Well… nothing. At least for now. Of course, there are two major flies in the ointment already. One is a report that the Taliban immediately rejected the offer, saying they want all of their people back before talks begin. That’s not exactly a good sign of progress.

But even if they agreed to it, there’s still the other minor item we learned of last week. Taliban leaders in both Afghanistan and Pakistan flatly told reporters from multiple media outlets that they have zero intention of honoring the deal they’re preparing to enter into. And they’ll have thousands of their experienced fighters back to put in the field when they break it.

If Ghani were smart he’d just hand the presidency over to Abdullah tomorrow and start working on a plan to get out of the country. As soon as the last of our troops are on their way home, his lifespan is probably going to be comparable to that of a fruit fly. If he can get Abdullah to take the fall for him, at least he’d get the last laugh in their running dispute.

I don’t mean to sound like a broken record here, but we all know how this story ends, right? Once we’re out of Afghanistan, the Taliban is going to tear the elected government to shreds and turn the country back into the same oppressive, 7th-century theocracy that it’s always been. I understand that the White House needs to go through all of the motions and say all of the right things to paint the prettiest picture of the process that’s possible. But the underlying realities are obvious and very ugly.

And once we’re out of Afghanistan, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Trump, Biden or Sanders (shudder) in the White House. They won’t be taking us back into that war.