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Asia

Prisoner release aims to strengthen peace process

President Karzai's government aims at bolstering the peace process by releasing suspected Taliban fighters from prison. Experts, however, doubt this will lead to any kind of peace.

Former prisoners greeted family members last week in what was a long-awaited reunion. Afghan authorities in the northeastern province of Ghazni welcomed 16 suspected Taliban fighters returning home from Bagram prison.

Upon their arrival, Musa Khan Akbarzada, the province's governor, spoke words of encouragement to the men: "I hope you have the courage to start a positive new life. You are part of our society and there is no good or bad. No matter what happened in the past, God will redeem you. Do not carry around negative feelings of revenge."

Lack of evidence

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in Kabul December 8, 2012(Photo: REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail)

President Hamid Karzai wishes to negotiate with the Taliban

But that is exactly that what many people in Ghazni fear - that those let out of jail will return to the ranks of the Taliban and continue to fight against the very government that locked them away for months and even years in some cases.

Among the recently freed prisoners  are a number who assert their innocence. Some even say they had nothing at all to do with the Taliban. One such man is Mullah Mulavi Muhammad. He told DW that he had been unduly imprisoned.

"Do I look like I could fire a missile?" he asked. "Do you think I know how to use a Kalashnikov? People were arrested in their homes or while they were out shopping. Some were even taken into custody while they were at school. I swear by God, I have no weapons at home."

In many cases, there was indeed a lack of evidence to keep the men imprisoned for any longer. Kabul insists there are also a number of political prisoners locked up in Bagram.

Observers, nonetheless, see last week's and this week's planned release of prisoners, who are thought to have been Taliban fighters, as a threat to regional peace and security. But this is a measure President Karzai's government is using to bolster peace negotiations with the Taliban.

After weeks of negotiations with the Afghanistan High Peace Council, Islamabad has also released 26 prisoners presumed to be Taliban insurgents. Speaker of the council, Ismail Qassemyar said the release was of vital importance for the peace process.

"The prisoners in Pakistan were part of the Taliban's leadership. They are influential and their release will have an impact on other members of the Taliban."

Potential terrorists

Watchtowers are seen along the perimeter of the Bagram prison, north of Kabul, (Photo: MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images)

Bagram prison switched hands in September 2012

Deputy Speaker of the Afghan Parliament Abdul Zahir Qadir said he was skeptical the Afghan and Pakistani governments were making the right decision by using the release of suspected Taliban prisoners as a means of getting the Islamists to disarm.

"There is no clear position nor are there any correct mechanisms for peace. The peace process up to now has born no fruit. Where are the prisoners who were released in Pakistan?"

Qadir said he feared that the prisoners who were released could re-join the insurgency and carry out attacks. That, in his opinion, would be the peace initiative's absolute failure.

Asmatullah Ghiljay of the Regional Studies Center for Afghanistan pointed out that while Pakistan had in the past handed over prisoners to Kabul or Washington, it had never handed over any high-ranking members of the Taliban. "The really important Taliban fighters were nonetheless always able to carry on their activities openly. They still hold meetings in North Waziristan, Quetta and Peshawar," Ghiljay told DW.

More prisoners to be released

Afghan authorities received responsibility for around 3,000 prisoners in September last year when Bagram prison was handed over from US control. After that, hundreds of prisoners were let out of jail. Last week, it was a further 80. By the end of this week, the number of prisoners released from Bagram is expected to total around 400.

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