The Taliban have appointed five former commanders who spent more than a decade as prisoners in Guantanamo Bay as members of its political office in Qatar, where tentative talks to end the Afghan conflict are ongoing.
The five commanders, Mohammad Fazl, Mohammed Nabi, Khairullah Khairkhwa, Abdul Haq Wasiq and Noorullah Noori, were held for 12 years in the US detention centre before being released in 2012 as part of a prisoner exchange in return for US soldier Berg Bergdahl.
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They were settled in Qatar following their release but until now had not been directly involved in political activities, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said on Wednesday.
The announcement comes amid a flurry of US-led diplomatic activity to convince Afghanistan’s largest armed group to negotiate an end to the 17-year war.
Taliban office was opened in Doha, the Qatari capital, in 2013 at the request of the US to facilitate talks.
Earlier this month, Taliban officials met the recently appointed US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Doha, having already met Alice Wells, principal deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asia, there earlier in the year.
A ‘very sensitive’ time
A Taliban official in Qatar said that while the former commanders, who were close to the movement’s late founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, had not been attached to the political office earlier, the office has sought their opinions and advice in the past.
The appointments have been made at a “very sensitive” time and will help strengthen the Taliban’s political team, the group’s official told AFP.
Some observers saw the move as a good sign for renewed efforts to bring about peace in Afghanistan, which has been ravaged by war since 2001.
“The Taliban are showing some positive gestures towards peace talks,” political analyst Atta Noori said.
“The old team always failed to deliver because they were not given enough authority.”
But a Western diplomat in Kabul expressed cautious optimism. “It does look like they are preparing for something, what I don’t know,” he said.
The appointments follow the release of senior Taliban figure Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar by Pakistan last week.
The Taliban office was shut shortly after opening in 2013 when it came under pressure over a flag hung outside the office – the same flag that was flown during Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
Afghan president at the time, Hamid Karzai, subsequently halted peace efforts, saying the office was presenting itself as an unofficial embassy for a government-in-exile.
The flag has since been taken down and the office has been empty with no official announcements about a possible reopening.
Talks with the Taliban have since been taking place elsewhere in Doha.