Ben Farmer of The Daily Telegraph (UK) reports that Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s peace council is going to send a delegation to Guantanamo. The council is requesting the release of about 20 Taliban commanders and leaders held there. There is no official indication, as of yet, that the Obama administration is going to allow the council’s delegation to visit. But the Telegraph cites a “senior Afghan official” as saying that the “delegation is being sent with the cooperation of the United States.”
If true, then this does not bode well for the Obama administration’s peace-seeking diplomatic efforts. The peace council says that it wants the detainees returned to Afghanistan so they can join the nascent peace talks. But why would the Taliban detainees have any interest in seeking peace in Afghanistan? And how can Karzai’s “peace council” ensure that the Taliban leaders – who are considered, by and large, the worst of the Taliban lot held at Guantanamo – won’t immediately return to the fight?
The second question is particularly important given that two former Gitmo detainees currently sit on the Taliban’s Quetta Shura Council. That is, the two former detainees are among the Taliban’s top anti-coalition leaders.
Furthermore, Karzai’s government has a notoriously bad track record when it comes to keeping tabs on former Gitmo detainees. A leaked State Department cable makes it clear that Karzai has not fulfilled his obligations with respect to dozens of former Gitmo detainees. American authorities expected the former detainees to stand trial in Afghan courts after being transferred from Guantanamo. Instead, Karzai’s government simply released them.
The peace council has named Khairullah Khairkhwa as one of the Taliban leaders it is interested in freeing from Gitmo. “Khairkhwa was an important man for the Taliban and his release would show the Americans are serious about negotiation. He is a good man and is well respected among the Taliban,” Mullah Arsala Rahmani, a former Taliban official who is now a member of the peace council, told The Telegraph earlier this month.
Judging by the declassified files released from Gitmo, Khairkhwa may be “well respected among the Taliban,” but U.S. military and intelligence professionals would probably not describe him as a “good man.” (See here and here for summaries of those files, including excerpts from the transcripts of Khairkhwa’s testimony at Gitmo.)
As the Taliban’s governor in the westernmost Herat province of Afghanistan, Khairkhwa admittedly helped lead the Taliban’s rapprochement efforts with the Iranians beginning in the late 1990s. This was after the two verged on war. Then, according to the declassified Gitmo files, Khairkhwa attended a meeting “between Taliban and Iranian officials in which Iran pledged to assist the Taliban in their war with the United States” in late 2001.
U.S. officials also accuse Khairkhwa of overseeing one of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist training camps in Herat, as well as being deeply involved in narcotics trafficking.
This is the type of detainee Karzai’s peace council wants freed. But it is not clear how Khairkhwa’s freedom from Gitmo would serve the interests of peace, as opposed to, say, the interests of the Taliban.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.