WASHINGTON, June 3, 2014 — Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is the latest critic of President Obama’s decision to trade five Taliban members from Guantanamo for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
Karzai’s press office issued a statement yesterday, saying the deal violates international law.
Reuters reported that the Afghan president was “angry” that the United States and Qatar brokered the agreement without consulting him, particularly considering the release of the five militants could directly impact stability in his country.
A source told Reuters, “The president is now even more distrustful of U.S. intentions in the country.”
The prisoners released by the United States are members of the Afghanistan Taliban, and are all hardened militants deemed a high security threat to the United States by intelligence and military analysts.
Bergdahl was held by the Haqqani Network, a group of militants affiliated with the Taliban that operates in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It is, therefore, extremely strange that the hostage-takers did not demand the release of the top Haqqani militant currently in custody, Haji Mali Kahn, as part of the trade. Instead, all five prisoners from Guananamo were Taliban. Only one, Haji Mali Kahn, has any known ties to the Haqqani Network.
For Afghanistan, the release of five high level Taliban could add to the instability in the country.
Taliban officials released a statement on Sunday, saying that the exchange “won’t help the peace process in any way, because we don’t believe in the peace process.”
Karzai has made several efforts to negotiate with the Taliban to end the violence in the country, without success. The Taliban has said it wants all foreign troops to leave the country, and is content to wait until that exit rather than to engage in any type of negotiations.
The Taliban is well-positioned to take over the country after NATO troops leave at the end of this year, giving them little incentive to negotiate.
Relations between Karzai and the United States are already strained, with the President claiming that Washington has repeatedly embarrassed him and undercut Afghan interests.
Karzai has refused to sign a bilateral agreement with the United States that would keep some troops in the country after the NATO withdrawal in 2014. The President insists that the U.S. must not enter any Afghan homes or mosques, even if investigating a crime, which Washington refuses.
Afghanistan is currently holding a presidential election and Karzai will step down from his post later this year. He is, however, expected to retain influence even after leaving office.
The prisoner swap is likely to further undercut bilateral relations, especially if a surge of Taliban violence follows the release of the Taliban militants.