Release of Five Top Taliban Leaders ‘A Bad Swap’

June 3, 2014 : The release of Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five top Taliban leaders that took place on May 31, raises a few serious questions about the nature of the event, US Administration’s position vis-a-vis the important issues of human rights and fighting terrorism, and what it means for the future of Afghanistan.

From Top Row (L-to-R): Abdul Haq Wasiq,  Mulla Norullah Nuri, Mulla Khairullah Khairkhwa, Mohammad Nabi, Mulla Mohammad Fazl, US Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl



To begin with, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was not a prisoner of war in the full sense of the word. A prisoner of war is:

A person captured in war; esp: a member of the armed forces of a nation who is taken by the enemy during combat.”
Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary

Bergdahl was not taken by the Taliban, nor was he in anyway forced to surrender to them. He walked willingly, intentionally and purposely unarmed to the arms of the enemy. He was more of a deserter than a prisoner of war. He left his post, his weapon, his gear and went to the Taliban saving his neck.

Even if he were a prisoner of war, there are two issues regarding his exchange with the prisoners.

First, the US had long held the view that it would not negotiate with terrorists. Breaking that long-held standing position sets an ominous precedence.  The US claims that it was not involved in dealing with the Taliban and that Qatar was one of the interlocutors. It is worth noting that the young Amir of Qatar, would not even dream of negotiating on behalf of the US. They probably did not have but a symbolic presence in any negotiations. Now terrorists of all persuasions will be encouraged to take hostage in the hope of securing their objectives. Although some administration officials like defense secretary Chuck Hagel says that he does not think that “getting our prisoner of war home would be in any way encouraging,” it is more of a wishful thinking than reality.

Second, the price that was paid for the release of the POW/deserter was too high. Five leading members of the Taliban terrorist group were exchanged with Bergdahl. They were some of the most dangerous individuals ever released by the US, Afghanistan or Pakistan. They were the who’s who of the Taliban leadership:

1- Mulla Mohammad Fazl, deputy defense minister who was responsible for the murder of thousands of the Hazara civilians in the north.

2- Mulla Norolla Noori, the former commander of the Taliban forces under whose direction the mopping up operations took place in Mazar-e-Sharif. He was later the governor of Balkh province where the bulk of the war with the Hazaras and Uzbeks took place. He was also directly involved in the massacres of Hazaras and a former associate of Mulla omar and Al Qaeda leaders.

3- Khairullha Khairkhwa, the former interior minister and governor of Herat province. He was closely associated with Osama bin Laden and Mulla Omar —the leader of the Taliban.

4- Mohammad Nabi, a senior Taliban leader associated with Al Qaeda leaders. He was instrumental in smuggling fighters and weapons.

5- Mulla Abdul Haq Wasiq, the former deputy minister of intelligence who was involved in recruiting foreign fighters for the Taliban.

In securing the life of one soldier, President Obama puts the lives of countless Americans and others, mostly Afghans, in danger. It is absurd to think —as some naive American officials like Susan Rice, the National Security Advisor thinks— that “In all likelihood,[ the returned Taliban detainees] will not pose a national security risk.” What likelihood! These people are not the ordinary foot soldiers of the Taliban or their petty commanders. They are the hardcore Taliban ideologues who believe in their heart that what they do is God’s way and they are on the right path no matter what they do. For them the end totally justifies the means. They can kill, smuggle, destroy anyone or anything for their utopian Islamic Emerite or Khalifet.  For them even their own Mosques or religious institutions are not sacred or their fellow Muslims are expendable as long as they are used for their purpose. Therefore, bombing a mosque is as normal to them as bombing a school.

In the war on terror, President Obama, on the one hand, prides himself with the operation against Osama bin Laden which he considered a top priority of his administration. Yet, he releases prisoners who are no less guilty of mass murders. If Bin Laden was responsible for the death of more than three thousand people on 9/11, at least two of the prisoners released, namely, Mulla Mohd. Fazl and Mulla Norolla Noori, have been instrumental in the massacres of more than 10,000 Hazaras in the northern part of Afghanistan, more than three times the number killed on 9/11. They had given the Hazaras three options: to die, to proselytize or to leave the country.  Instead of sending them to the international court of justice in The Hague, they are whisked to a life of luxury in Qatar. What signal does this exchange give to other mass murderers and killers?

The release of people like Mohammad Fazl gives a green light to all those killers that if you secure a high prize hostage, the US and its allies can accommodate your demands. The International Criminal Court in The Hague, recently sentenced a Congolese, Germain Katanga to 12 years in prison and earlier another one of his compatriots, Thomas Lubanga to 14 years. The crimes that Mulla Fazl and Mulla Noori committed against innocent civilians are no less heinous than the two Congolese. Sadly, these criminals are sent not to court or prison but to a safe haven where they will perpetuate their crimes.

Finally, the issue of human rights. The US has long claimed to support democracy and human rights in the world especially in places where it holds sway. The release of people like Fazl and Noori and others, makes a mockery of those claims. President Obama’s announcement of the drawdown of forces that he made earlier in the week and now the release of the Taliban mass murderers which Mulla Omar called a victory, leave no doubt in the minds of the enemy that the real victory is within reach. Once again, the Afghans are going to be left to their own devices and it is hard to think that they are not being abandoned again. If the first time after the Soviet withdrawal which lead to a decade of savage civil war and the events that culminated in 9/11 are too vivid in the minds of Afghans and if the situation in Iraq is anything to go by, it is not possible to feel that history will not be repeated.  If another civil war starts in Afghanistan, the country as we know it will go to the wolves.

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Akram Gizabi

The writer is a former VOA journalist. He is an analyst on Hazaras, Afghanistan, and South Asia. Twitter: @AGizabi

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