Bergdahl prisoner swap didn’t produce peace talks with Taliban despite US hopes

US soldier Bowe Bergdahl (AFP Photo / US Army)

US soldier Bowe Bergdahl (AFP Photo / US Army)


Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda, Army, Conflict, Military, NATO, Politics, Security, USA, Violence, War

The United States may have hoped that swapping five Guantanamo Bay prison detainees for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl would have sparked talks between the Taliban and Afghan government, but so far the deal has yet to result in movement towards reconciliation.

According to a report by the Associated Press, American
officials, along with their Afghan counterparts, believe the
prisoner exchange is evidence that both sides can cooperate to
reach some sort of peace deal. By successfully completing the
deal, some officials think moderate forces within the Taliban
will gain the leverage needed to initiate negotiations.

Yet any concrete movement toward such a scenario could take
months, if it happens at all. With the Afghan presidential
campaign underway, peace talks would likely not take place until
after July, when it is clear who the country’s next president
will be. Even then, the process could be dragged out by the fact
that any incoming leader would need time to organize his

If reconciliation does become a possibility, former US ambassador
to Afghanistan Ronald Nuemann believes the Bergdahl swap won’t
have much impact on the direction of negotiations, especially
since there’s been no recent signs of optimism.

“No talks are imminent,” he told the AP. “I don’t
see anything happening anytime soon and by the time you get
there, the Bergdahl swap will be ancient history.”

That’s a more pessimistic take on the situation than what was
offered by some American officials. When the US-Taliban exchange
was first announced, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel suggested a
“new opening” for negotiations was available, and President Obama
said the US would continue to back the Afghans when it came to

One former Afghan official, who was unnamed, also said the
Bergdahl swap could embolden moderate Taliban leaders who want to
kickstart talks with the current government but are holding back
due to opposition among the rank-and-file. With a successful deal
with the US in the books, the official said these leader may be
able to more effectively sell reconciliation to those who first
thought talks would constitute a betrayal to their cause.

This combo photo shows (from left) Mohammad Fazl, Mohammed Nabi, Khairullah Khairkhwa and Abdul Haq Wasiq, the Guantanamo detainees released by the Obama administration in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdah. (Images from

Additionally, the former official told the AP that since US
troops are gradually leaving the country, the Taliban is
increasingly fighting and killing other Afghans, a situation
that’s driving its popularity among residents into more negative
territory. As the US prepares to remove the vast majority of its
troops, the prospect of an extended conflict with native Afghans
could push the Taliban to the table.

Still, hard-line Taliban members also feel vindicated by the
prisoner swap, since they believe it helped legitimize their
movement. As RT reported previously, the deal was met with
criticism from many Republican politicians in the US, some of
whom claimed it set “a dangerous precedent” of
negotiating with terrorists. Already, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah
Mujahid has said reconciliation with Karzai or his successor is
not in the cards.

Meanwhile, attempts to assassinate both of Karzai’s potential
successors continued in the days following the Bergdahl deal.
Candidate Abdullah Abdullah managed to survive an attack on his
convoy by two suicide bombers, while candidate Ashraf Ghani
Ahmadzai said insurgents have tried to kill him on five separate
occasions during the campaign.

What role the US plays in any peace talks also remains to be
seen. Despite Obama’s statement supporting reconciliation, Kate
Clark of the Afghan Analysis Network believes the US has largely
removed itself from the ultimate outcome in Afghanistan.

“In reality, though, the U.S. is on its way out and the swap
looks like a clearing up of unfinished business before its troops
leave at the end of 2014,”
she said to the AP. “Whether
the release of the five men might now aid reconciliation is
unknown. They may be useful for negotiations or many years in
detention may have hardened them to thoughts of compromise.”

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