As the one-year anniversary approaches of five former Taliban prisoners arriving in Qatar, talks are reportedly underway that could see their stay here extended.
According to theWashington Post, the US and Qatar are discussing additional security assurances that may include preventing the Taliban members from leaving Qatar beyond their one-year deadline, or transfering the former detainees to another country.
The men had been held by American forces in Guantanamo Bay before being remanded into Qatar’s custody last year. In exchange, the Taliban released US soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held captive for five years.
Apart from a one-year prohibition on leaving Qatar, the terms of the Taliban members’ release was not publicly disclosed. Sources told the Washington Post last year that restrictions also included a ban on fundraising and “military incitement.”
Upon arriving here, the men were quick to promise that they’d abide by the agreement they had reached with Qatar:
“We want to assure all stakeholders that we are steadfast and loyal to the agreement between the Islamic Emirate and State of Qatar that was made specifically for our release (from Guantanamo Bay),” they said in Urdu last June.
Earlier this year, however, some US politicians raised concerns about the Taliban members’ activities in Qatar. US Senator Lindsey Graham said the men had “reached out” to individuals fighting American forces in Afghanistan and may be looking to return to the battlefield.
Qatar’s foreign minister – Dr. Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah – called the reports “totally false.”
“They are living according to the agreement we signed with the United States,” he said at the time, according to Reuters.
American and Qatari security agencies “will monitor and pick up anything that will happen,” he said, adding, “I can assure you, no one has made an attempt to go back” to Afghanistan.
His statement gave no hint as to what may happen to the former detainees once the agreement expires.
‘Open discussions’ held in Qatar
Last week’s Washington Post story cited unnamed Qatari sources as saying that the government here has been waiting for their American counterparts to tell them what they want.
The story said that while Qatar is theoretically open to extending the agreement, it remains unclear whether officials here would agree to extending the restrictions on the former prisoners’ movements.
The five officials are thought to be living with their families outside of Doha.
The discussions about what to do with the men comes as Qatar said it is hosting a “national dialogue” between Afghan officials and Taliban representatives this weekend.
Qatar is keen to “establish security and stability in Afghanistan” through “open discussions,” said Yousif al Sada, the director of the Asian department at Qatar’s foreign ministry, according to the country’s state news agency.
Reuters quoted an official Taliban spokesperson as saying the organization’s participation in the conference “does not mean at all peace talks or negotiations.”
A key plank of Qatar’s foreign policy is to play the role of interlocutor between deeply divided parties. However, one analyst has suggested that the country’s connection to the Taliban is a hangover from years past when Qatar sought to actively involve itself as a peacemaker in regional conflicts.
Several Taliban members have lived in Qatar for years. In 2013, the group opened a political office in Dafna, which was reportedly aimed at facilitating negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government and the US.
However, it promptly closed less than a week later after drawing the ire of Afghanistan’s then-president, Hamad Karzai, for raising a flag and installing a placard that named the building a representative of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” – the former name of the country when it was under Taliban rule.