Afghanistan is planning to release 88 people from Bagram military prison, undermining an already shaky relationship with the United States. Washington's warnings have fallen on deaf ears.
For the spokesman of US forces in Afghanistan, Dave Lapan, the 88 prisoners, at the center of the current tiff, are "dangerous individuals" with ties to the Taliban and al Qaeda. For the United States, these men must be dealt with in Afghanistan's "official justice system."
However, the Afghan Commission for Prisoner Evaluations has a different view. Commission member Abdul Shakoor Dadras told DW that in talks with the Americans, the point was made that the "charges raised against the accused had to be substantiated with concrete evidence." "Allegations alone are not enough to keep people in custody," he said, adding that the Afghan people would not accept such steps.
The prisoner issue has been a sore point between Kabul and Washington for some time. In March 2013, American forces handed over Bagram prison to the Afghans. A short while later Afghanistan released 648 prisoners. The 88 remaining prisoners were kept in jail.
And they are there wrongly, according to Dadras. "Our evaluation indicated that the files of the accused were not maintained according to valid Afghan laws and therefore not legally binding," he said.
For Abdul Ghafoor Liwal, director of the Afghan Center for Regional Studies in Kabul, the planned release is supposed to be a message to Islamic extremists. "Afghanistan would like to get the peace process moving and with this step the government is signaling to the Taliban that it is serious about peace talks," he told DW.
Liwal stressed that it was important for the security forces of both the US and Afghanistan "to share information and evidence about suspects" in order to find a solution to the simmering conflict. Only then can the release of "real terrorists" be prevented, he said.
Crucial for bilateral ties?
There is little sympathy for this standpoint in Washington. The US has made it very clear that this issue is seriously straining already shaky ties as Kabul has so far refused to sign a key bilateral security agreement.
Releasing the 88 prisoners will "irreparably damage" relations, said Republican Senator Lindsay Graham during a visit to the US embassy in Kabul on Thursday (02.01.2014). Graham said the 88 men in Bagram were responsible for the deaths of 60 NATO soldiers and 57 Afghans. "If it really comes to their release, it would have tremendously negative consequences for future relations between the American people and the Afghan government," he said.
Security agreement breakthrough?
John McCain, also a Republican senator and a former presidential candidate who accompanied Graham on his trip, stirred some hope, at least, that an agreement could soon be reached on the stalled security accord.
After talks with outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai, he said he was optimistic that a breakthrough was possible. McCain said he came away with the impression that the differences had been cleared up to the point that "a solution could be found very soon."
Washington is concerned that Afghanistan could sink into chaos after the withdrawal of international forces later this year and has been pressing for an agreement on security issues. The accord is a prerequisite for further international assistance. Until now, Karzai has refused to sign the agreement, saying a decision should be left up to his successor after elections in April.