Many Afghans oppose release of Taliban officials
June 2, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Bob Bergdahl, father of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, speaks during a news conference as his wife Jani looks on at the Idaho National Guard headquarters in Boise, Idaho June 1, 2014. Photo: Reuters

Many ordinary Afghans said Monday the five senior Taliban figures who were freed in exchange for a US soldier had blood on their hands and their release would strengthen the insurgents.

The men are all former officials of the Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

The insurgents have been battling the Western-backed Afghan government since they were ousted from power in a US-led invasion.

The Taliban had long demanded the release of the five, who are considered still influential within the movement.

They were freed from Guantanamo Bay and transferred to the Gulf state of Qatar, in exchange for army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl who had been captured by the Taliban five years ago.

Of the five, Norullah Noori, the ex-governor of the northern province of Balkh, was seen as the most controversial among the people AFP spoke to in the area, where he is accused of taking part in the 1998 massacre of thousands of people.

The others include Khairullah Khairkhwa, the Taliban interior minister who is considered a relative moderate; Mohammad Fazl, a leading commander with a strong battlefield reputation; Abdul Haq Wasiq, deputy head of the Taliban intelligence service; and Mohammad Nabi.

Nabi, the least known, may have been held on suspicion of ties to the Al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani militant network.

All the men are now in Qatar, which helped broker the deal, and are under a one-year travel ban under the conditions of their release.

Hussain Ali, a taxi driver in Balkh provincial capital of Mazar-i-Sharif, said: "Our close relatives and loved ones and neighbours were killed during Noori's term as governor.

"We are very disappointed to hear about the release of these prisoners," he added.

Amir Mohammad Ziaye, a prominent leader, added: "These prisoners should not have been handed over to Qatar, they should have been handed over to the Afghan government and Noori should have been tried for war crimes."

The allegations around Noori centre on an August 1998 massacre of up to 8,000 people at the hands of the Taliban, who were bent on avenging the killing of 2,000 of their own men a year earlier.

Noori's Guantanamo Bay detention file notes he is "wanted by the United Nations for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of people". But the respected Afghanistan Analysts Network said no clear evidence has been presented to back up the allegation.

Bahara Bahar, a female activist in the western city of Herat, said the release had dealt a psychological blow to people after years of fighting the Taliban.

"It is almost election time and the release of these five senior members of the Taliban... will scare and dishearten people," she said.

In Pashtun-dominated areas of the country, however, many welcomed the release.

Khalid Zia, a lecturer at Nangarhar University in the east, said: "We consider the release a positive move that will help pave the way for peace negotiations and strengthen morale."

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