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August 12, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8891

Urdu Daily: Loya Jirga Freed Taliban Prisoners Under U.S. Pressure; U.S. Had Warned President Ghani That If Kabul Did Not Release Them, It Would Free Them Itself From Bagram Base

August 12, 2020
Special Dispatch No. 8891

 
Roznama Ummat stated that the U.S. had warned the Ghani government to free the Taliban prisoners.

On August 11, 2020, the pro-Taliban Urdu newspaper Roznama Ummat published a report titled "The Taliban prisoners were released due to American threat [to the government of Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani]." It stated that "behind the scenes, Ashraf Ghani was warned [by the U.S. to free the prisoners]. The decision about freeing the prisoners was not made in the jirga, nor were the delegates informed of the details."[1] The daily's assertion is that the U.S. had virtually bludgeoned the organizers to approve the release of the prisoners.

The jirga referred to is the three-day (August 7-9) loya jirga (the grand assembly of Afghan elders) held in Kabul by the democratically elected government of President Ghani and attended by 3,400 delegates from 34 provinces and different classes of Afghan society.[2] The jirga, acting under U.S. pressure,[3] approved the release of the remaining 400 Taliban prisoners, who are accused of serious crimes such as murder, kidnapping, and drug smuggling.[4]

It should be noted that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Taliban organization) and the U.S. signed a deal in the Qatari capital of Doha on February 29, 2020, which paved the way for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and the release of about 5,000 Taliban inmates from Afghan prisons, and ensured that the Taliban would have a share for in the power structure of Afghanistan.[5] About 4,600 Taliban prisoners have already been freed, but the Afghan government had called the jirga to decide the fate of about 400 remaining Taliban prisoners, due to their involvement in serious crimes.

President Ghani: I Asked The U.S. To Disclose Whether There Is Any Agreement Between It And The Taliban So That I Can Share That Information With The Afghan Nation

There have been reports that some documents which are part of the Doha deal between the United States and the Islamic Emirate (the Taliban organization) are secret. Addressing the loya jirga on its concluding day, President Ghani expressed his concern about them: "I have asked for two clarifications from the international community [i.e. the U.S.]. First, are there any secret agreements between them and the Taliban? I asked them to share if there is any agreement between them and the Taliban so that I can share [that information]  with the Afghan nation. And their answer is clear; there is no other, secret agreement."[6] President Ghani continued: "Second, is there a consensus on a desirable objective that is an independent [Afghanistan], free, democratic, united, in peace within and with the world, and an Afghanistan that is capable of preserving and expanding the gains made in the last two decades? They all said in unison, yes."[7]

Contrary to what President Ghani was told by the U.S. about the existence of the secret agreements (in addition to the publicly available agreement of the Doha deal), the Trump administration agreed to make "available to Congress two secret documents related to the United States' peace agreement with the Taliban."[8] Regarding the second question raised by President Ghani, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had stressed soon after the Doha deal was signed that the achievements in Afghanistan in post-9/11 years regarding democratic norms and women's rights must not be compromised by the Doha deal, stating: "We must make certain that the progress won through great sacrifice by Afghans and Americans is not undermined by any precipitous rush for the exits."[9]

From the speech given by President Ghani to the loya jirga, it appears that the democratically elected government of Afghanistan is not aware of the specifics of the secret agreement documents between the U.S. and the Taliban. However, The New York Times reported: "The Taliban have read the annexes [i.e. the secret documents]."[10] In an editorial titled "Trump Isn't Telling Us Everything About His Deal With The Taliban," the paper wrote: "Liz Cheney, the hawkish Republican congresswoman from Wyoming [who viewed the secret annexes]... said after seeing the documents that she remains unsure the deal has sufficient mechanisms to verify that the Taliban are abiding by the terms."[11]


The victorious Taliban jihadis celebrated in processions in the streets of some Afghan provinces

The release of the remaining 400 prisoners is meant to facilitate the intra-Afghan talks in Doha, which will give the Taliban a share in power. The signing of the Doha deal and the release of the Taliban prisoners have emboldened the Islamic Emirate and Al-Qaeda, which has maintained its ties to the Taliban throughout the 18-month period of negotiations with the U.S., as per a U.N. report, and after the deal in Doha was inked.[12] Meanwhile, some Taliban terrorists have joined the fighting after being released as part of the Doha deal.[13]

Even as the loya jirga was deciding in favor of releasing the 400 Taliban prisoners, Taliban mujahideen went out in the streets of Afghan provinces such as Ghazni, Logar and Laghman in victory processions – as seen in the images published on the Taliban's official website.[14] The Taliban website published these images under the title "Valiant Mujahideen in Ghazni, Logar and Laghman."[15]

Roznama Ummat: "America Had Warned President Ashraf Ghani That If The Kabul Administration Did Not Release The Taliban Prisoners, Then America Itself Would Free The Taliban Prisoners From Bagram Base"

On August 11, Roznama Ummat noted: "The Ghani administration had made the release of the prisoners conditional upon the decision of the jirga. Strangely, however, the jirga itself recommended the prisoners' release on the first day [of the jirga, which was to last three days]. After this, many questions arose. The Afghan media revealed that America had warned President Ashraf Ghani that if the Kabul administration did not release the Taliban prisoners, then America itself would free the Taliban prisoners from Bagram base."[16]

It added: "It has also been revealed that while the jirga was underway, the process for the release of the 400 prisoners had already begun. Many delegates at the jirga... said that they were not given details about the prisoners being freed; the decision about the release had already been made. The name of the jirga was used only [to approve the decision]."[17] Noting that President Ghani wanted "to stop the release of the [400] Taliban prisoners," the Urdu daily said: "At the time of the jirga, the American embassy [in Kabul] appeared to be extraordinarily active, which sparked curiosity among people [i.e. observers of Afghan affairs]."[18]


President Ghani addresses the concluding session of the loya jirga in Kabul

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the rival of President Ghani in the 2019 presidential election, serves (as part of a compromise) as head of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), and in this capacity is in charge of the intra-Afghan talks, which were mandated by the Doha deal. It appears that Dr. Abdullah and the U.S. might have played a role together to ensure that the dangerous Taliban prisoners are freed, despite their involvement in serious crimes.

Roznama Ummat explained: "No delegate of the jirga  has claimed to be aware of the details of the prisoners to be released. Additionally, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, appeared to be active during the jirga. Abdullah Abdullah has political differences with President Ashraf Ghani. Not only was he active during the jirga; rather, on Saturday [the second day of the jirga], before the jirga's decision came to the fore, he had said that no delegate had opposed the release of the Taliban [prisoners]."[19]

"During the jirga itself, it was felt that America wanted the jirga to make a decision in accordance with [U.S.] wishes, and that Abdullah Abdullah was playing a singular role in this. When the decision in favor of the Taliban prisoners' release was made, many circles [of observers] were surprised," it stated.

It seems, as per Roznama Ummat, that during their meeting before the jirga President Ashraf Ghani and U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, who had negotiated the Doha deal, had strong disagreements over the release of the prisoners. It noted: "President Ashraf Ghani had said that some among the Taliban prisoners are dangerous, and therefore cannot be released as requested by the U.S. In reply, Zalmay Khalilzad said that he is America's special envoy for Afghanistan... and that as per the [Doha] deal between America and the Taliban, the Kabul administration will have to free the prisoners."[20]

 

[1] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), August 11, 2020.

[2] ToloNews.com (Afghanistan), August 10, 2020.

[3] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), August 11, 2020. A report in this pro-Taliban daily was headlined: "The Taliban prisoners were released due to the American threat [to the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani]."

[4] ToloNews.com (Afghanistan), August 10, 2020.

[8] Politico.com (U.S.), March 2, 2020.

[9] Politico.com (U.S.), March 2, 2020.

[10] The New York Times (U.S.), March 8, 2020. The paper stated: " Because the documents lay out the specific understandings between the United States and the Taliban — including what bases would remain open under Afghan control — the details are critical to judging whether the United States is making good on its promise to leave only if conditions allow, or whether it is just getting out."

[11] The New York Times (U.S.), March 10, 2020. Its editorial noted: "Legislators who have viewed the annexes, however, found the criteria for compliance so nebulous as to make the [peace] process meaningless. In any case, that’s something all Americans should be allowed to judge for themselves."

[14] AlemarahEnglish.net (Afghanistan), August 10, 2020.

[15] AlemarahEnglish.net (Afghanistan), August 10, 2020.

[16] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), August 11, 2020.

[17] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), August 11, 2020.

[18] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), August 11, 2020.

[19] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), August 11, 2020.

[20] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), August 11, 2020.

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