Security

Taliban militants freed as part of peace talks renege on promises, rejoin fighting

By Mohammad Qasem

Despite committing to avoid fighting against Afghan forces, some Afghan Taliban militants have rejoined the ranks after their release from prison following Doha peace talks. [Muhammad Qasem/Salaam Times]

KUNDUZ -- Afghan officials say a large number of Taliban militants who were released from Afghan prisons in the past few months have returned to the battlefield.

In the peace deal signed with the United States in February 2020, the Taliban promised that they would reduce violence and stop attacking cities, district centres and highways.

The deal also included a controversial and months-long prisoner exchange the served as a precursor to intra-Afghan talks that began in Doha in September.

"The [released] Taliban had committed and sworn on the Koran not to return to the battlefield, but our information proves the contrary. The Taliban in different provinces have turned to the battlefield and have continued fighting," said Rohullah Ahmadzai, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence.

Qari Shafiullah is seen in this video screenshot after his arrest in early April in Khuram wa Sarbagh district, Samangan province.

Qari Shafiullah is seen in this video screenshot after his arrest in early April in Khuram wa Sarbagh district, Samangan province.

Former Taliban prisoners are shown at the compound of the Herat governor's office July 11 after they were released from the Herat prison. [Herat governor's office]

Former Taliban prisoners are shown at the compound of the Herat governor's office July 11 after they were released from the Herat prison. [Herat governor's office]

"Hundreds of Taliban militants in the northern, eastern, southwestern and western provinces have gone to the battlefield," said Ahmadzai, adding that some have been killed.

The released prisoners took an oath not to return to the battlefield as a condition of their release, said the Afghan National Security Council in March.

Since March 21, newly released Taliban militants have engaged in several attacks against Afghan security forces in the provincial capital and districts of Samangan, said Capt. Abdul Muneer Rahimi, a spokesman for the provincial police.

"Six Taliban fighters ... were killed, and four others were injured [and detained] on April 9 in clashes with Afghan security forces in Khuram wa Sarbagh district of Samangan," Rahimi said.

Among those arrested was Qari Shafiullah, the commander of a Taliban unit tasked with extorting money from NGOs, said Rahimi, adding that he was among the 5,000 Taliban prisoners released from Bagram prison.

Shafiullah fought under the command of Sheikh Abdul Rahim, a Taliban commander in Samangan, said Rahimi.

Shafiullah confessed that he rejoined the Taliban six months after his release from prison.

"I was sentenced to 10 years in prison of which I spent two years and eight months in Bagram prison," he told Sama-e-Solh radio of Samangan province on April 12.

"I could not stay at home after my release from the prison and rejoined the Taliban," he said. "I was recaptured after I was injured in a three-hour clash in Pesht-e-Band village of Khuram wa Sarbagh district."

Breaking promises

Shafiullah is not the only former Taliban prisoner who has returned to the battlefield.

Qari Jamaluddin, the first prisoner to be released from Faryab prison under the Doha agreement, also rejoined militant ranks before being killed in action, said Capt. Abdul Karim Yoresh, a spokesman for the Faryab police.

Jamaluddin, who had served 15 years in prison, "had committed to not returning to the battlefield, but he joined the Taliban and was killed in a military operation in December in Qaisar district of this province", said Yoresh.

The Taliban do not believe in the peace process and regularly violate their commitments, say Afghans.

Most of the militants fighting against security forces in Samangan are those released from prisons by the government, said Rahmatullah Mohammad, a resident of Aibak city, the capital of the province.

"Those released from the prison, unfortunately, did not live up to their commitments, and contrary to expectations, returned to the battlefield, killing the children of those who work to bring peace to the country," Mohammad said.

The Taliban do not make decisions independently, said Shafiqullah, a resident of Aibak city who requested withholding his last name.

"The Taliban have shown no flexibility for peace and have unfortunately continued brutally killing the people of Afghanistan," he said.

"We hear the sounds of war and violence on daily basis," said Nasima Saberi, a civil society activist in Faryab.

"If the Taliban's reason for war was the presence of foreign forces, they are expected to leave, then why is there no change in their hostile policies?" he asked.

Isolation

Based on the announced timetable, NATO and US forces will begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in the coming months, aiming to complete the action by September 11.

The United States plans to reposition some of these forces in neighbouring countries to Afghanistan to continue surveilling and potentially attacking violent extremists.

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad in a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Tuesday put pressure on the Taliban to respect human rights.

If the Taliban seize power militarily from the government in Kabul, they will have little international support, he said.

"They will face isolation, regional opposition, sanctions, and international opprobrium."

"There is remarkable consensus within the region and the international community against a military takeover by the Taliban," Khalilzad said.

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