Call for Release of Taleban Prisoners

Grand assembly reminded that authorities are not honouring agreement to free jailed Taleban foot-soldiers.

Call for Release of Taleban Prisoners

Grand assembly reminded that authorities are not honouring agreement to free jailed Taleban foot-soldiers.

Monday, 21 February, 2005

As endless talk of national unity pervaded the Loya Jirga over the weekend, two delegates raised a grievance which has been festering for months, demanding that thousands of Taleban rank and file who were taken prisoner when their regime collapsed should be released.

"Most of the youths of Kandahar and the surrounding areas are prisoners in different prisons because of their links with the Taleban," said Abdul Hamid Babai, a delegate from Kandahar. "If they are criminals, their case should be proved. Otherwise they should be freed."

He and another delegate, Nadir Khan Kata Wazi from Paktika, called on the transitional administration of Hamed Karzai to ensure that the jailed men, held at various points around the north of the country, are allowed to return to their homes.

Officials in the interim administration which has ruled the country for the last six months say they agree ordinary Taleban should be released. But somehow this agreement has not translated into any action, and several thousand continue to be held, sometimes in terrible conditions.

Foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah told IWPR some of the prisoners had been released at various times in the last six months, including during the Muslim festival of Eid and the New Year.

"I believe those Taleban prisoners not directly involved in the international network of terrorism should be freed. But their leaders and commanders should be sentenced according to the order of the court," Abdullah said.

Jean Pascal Moret, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross and Crescent, ICRC, in Kabul, said it had information about more than 3000 men who were prisoners across Afghanistan. But they were only the men whom ICRC delegates could reach, he added, saying there could be many more.

Moret added that most of the prisoners of war are held at the central jail of Shiberghan, a northern province. But there are also men detained in other cities such as Herat, Khost, and Kandahar.

"Six weeks back, we started an emergency feeding programme for the Shiberghan detainees because the lives of some of them were in danger," said Moret. He added that the initiative stopped last week because conditions had apparently improved.

But rising levels of lawlessness in parts of the north also give rise for concern about the jailed men.

"The security condition in Mazar-e-Sharif has worsened so much that UN and other NGOs plan to leave the region," said Manual D-Almenda, a UN spokesman in Kabul.

"If they do leave the region conditions for the detainee will deteriorate. Because most of them are fed and clothed by the ICRC along with their families."

Moret said the ICRC did not have much information about what conditions the men were being held in, nor of the men who had been released in Gardez and Khost.

Some of the prisoners have been held for years, taken in fighting in the north and north-east of the country between then Northern Alliance and the Taleban, who took control of Kabul in 1996. But most were held last year as the student militia's regime collapsed under the impact of American bombing after refusing to surrender Osama Bin Laden.

The detainee issue has a direct impact on relations between different ethnic groups at the Loya Jirga because the majority of the Taleban inmates are from the Pashtun ethnic group, and they are mostly being held in northern areas populated by other groups such as Tajiks and Uzbeks.

General Mohammad Anwar Kohistani, the deputy head of intelligence at the Interior ministry said, " I believe that the ordinary Taleban should be freed as soon as possible to go back to their families and restart their lives. We had five prisoners that we freed before convening the emergency Loya Jirga.

"The Taleban prisoners are in two categories. The first is the ordinary soldiers and officers and the second is the leaders and commanders of Taleban who were directly connected to the international network of terrorism."

"I as an intelligence officer want the leaders of Taleban tried and punished," said Kohistani. Observers expect pressure to rise on the new central government to do something about the issue. For the moment, most of the detainees remain outside Kabul government control, in the hands of regionally-based factions.

Abdel Wali is an IWPR trainee journalist.

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