Releasing Taliban Detainees: A Misguided Path To Peace

by Jeffrey Dressler & Isaac Hock

In an effort to bring the war in Afghanistan to a swift conclusion, the Obama administration is trying to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. In late 2011, the Taliban expressed a willingness to engage in preliminary talks with the U.S. in exchange for the release of Taliban officials detained at Guantanamo Bay. To facilitate this, the Taliban struck a deal to open a political office in Qatar in early 2012. 

Yet in mid-March, after preliminary contact with representatives of the U.S. government, the Taliban halted all talks, claiming that the U.S. reneged on its “promise” to transfer the detainees. Last week, in an attempt to get the Taliban back to the negotiating table, the Obama administration indicated a willingness to consider giving up tighter restrictions on the proposed transfers, including a waiver of previous requirements such as imprisonment, house arrest, or continuous monitoring by security forces in Qatar.

Administration officials insist they will only agree to the lesser restrictions if the arrangements serve U.S. counterterrorism objectives. However, given the individuals under consideration and the Qatari government’s poor record of monitoring high-level terrorists, this is a dangerous proposition and one that is unlikely to facilitate further peace prospects with the Taliban.