Five Taliban inmates at Guantanamo Bay have agreed to be transferred to Qatar, in a move that would meet a key demand of the insurgents and likely ease the path to peace talks, Kabul said yesterday.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government has also dropped its opposition to the transfer as it seeks to boost reconciliation efforts, a spokesman for the president said.
However, the Pentagon said it had not yet made a decision on the transfer of the detainees from the US military prison in Cuba.
The inmates told a visiting Afghan delegation they were willing to be transferred to the Middle East state, and it was now up to Washington whether they were sent, Karzai’s spokesman Aimal Faizi said.
Faizi said the Afghan national security council representatives met the prisoners at Guantanamo and Kabul had also sought assurances about the conditions in which they would be transferred.
“Our responsibility was to make sure they would not be transferred as hostages,” Faizi said.
He added that Kabul had dropped its previous opposition “for the sake of peace.”
Once in Qatar, the inmates would be reunited with their families, he said.
However, Pentagon spokesman Todd Breasseale said that a decision was yet to be taken.
“Any decision to transfer a detainee from Guantanamo would be undertaken in accordance with US law and in consultation with the [US] Congress,” he said.
The Taliban had demanded in talks with the US that the detainees be sent to Qatar, as they announced plans earlier this year to set up a political office in the Middle East state, in a move seen a precursor to peace talks.
However, Kabul initially raised strong objections to the proposal. While the Afghan government backed the prisoners being taken out of Guantanamo, they wanted them transferred directly to Afghanistan.
Karzai’s government is concerned about being sidelined in the negotiations toward possible peace between the Taliban and the US, and Faizi said earlier this year that it wanted “an Afghan-led transition.”
“You can’t send them directly to Qatar because it would be a breach of our sovereignty, of the Afghan laws or of the constitution,” he said previously.
The Afghan government knows of about 20 Afghan citizens held in Guantanamo, some of them ex-officials, ministers and vice ministers, the spokesman said.
The US led an invasion of Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, ousting the hardline Taliban government, and about 130,000 US-led troops are still in the country.
Nearly 10 years since the first handful of detainees arrived at Guantanamo from Afghanistan, 778 terror suspects have passed through the prison.