What Does Sgt. Bergdahl’s Release tell us about Afghanistan, Pakistan & the Taliban today?

By Juan Cole

The surprise announcement by President Obama on Saturday of the negotiated release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, captured in 2009, is wonderful news for him, his family, and America. But what does it tell us about the Taliban, Afghanistan and Pakistan? Qatar was the country that successfully acted as mediator, and what does this episode tell us about that Gulf nation?

The Taliban or “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” welcomed the release in return of five high-ranking members of the former Taliban government in Afghanistan, saying that it had negotiated the prisoner swap via Qatar.

Al-Arabiya reports that Sheikh Tamim of Qatar has given the US “security guarantees” about the five senior Taliban figures released from Guantanamo to his custody in Doha. It seems that they are expected to reside in Qatar, where they will be joined by their families. It is not clear how their activities will be monitored but presumably their passports will be confiscated.

Qatar has suffered extensive diplomatic setbacks since the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2010-2011. Because Qatar and its satellite t.v. station,http://www.alarabiya.net/ar/arab-and-world/2014/05/31/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AC-%D8%B9%D9%86-%D8%AC%D9%86%D8%AF%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%8A%D8%B1%D9%83%D9%8A-%D9%85%D8%AD%D8%AA%D8%AC%D8%B2-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%BA%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%86.html have supported the Muslim Brotherhood, they have been pushed out of Egypt. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain put pressure on the kingdom and withdrew their ambassadors. This prisoner swap is the first patch of good news for Doha, for about a year. It shows that Qatar, which is fabulously wealthy with natural gas, still has some influence in South Asia, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

2. Stg. Bergdahl was apparently being held by the Haqqani group, which has bases in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) of Pakistan. Does this prisoner swamp show that the Taliban are ready to negotiate? The Haqqani group is the most hardline of the 4 major organizations now called “the Taliban” by US officials and journalists. The are the ‘old Taliban’ of Mullah Omar, the Hizb-i Islami or Islamic Party of Gulbadin Hikmatyar (who fought the Soviets as occupiers in conjunction with the CIA, but in 2002 switched and decided to fight the Americans); the Haqqani Group led by Siraj Haqqani; and the “Pakistani Taliban,” most members of Mahsud and other FATA tribes, who have never been to a madrasah or institution of higher learning (like 2 of the other 3 they aren’t Taliban, which means “seminarians.”) The Haqqanis are said to be close to al-Qaeda

3. There is some evidence that the Taliban in northern Pakistan are split. Some favor negotiating with the Muslim League government in Pakistan of Pm Nawaz Sharif. Others reject this step and continue to want to blow stuff up. Given the sophistication and experience of the Qatar military (e.g. summer 2011 in Syria as the siege began). PM Sharif himself has used both stick and carrot. He has negotiated with the Pakistani Taliban but also when those talk have stalled, he hasn’t hesitated to conduct aerial bombardments of FATA using American F-16s. Is this successful hostage negotiation a sign that elements in the Haqqani group are ready to deal now that the CIA is withdrawing to Kabul and US troops will be out by January, 2017? The Haqqani group has long insisted that it won’t negotiate with Kabul until foreign occupation troops are out of the country. But the prospect is now on the horizon of this factor going away.

4. In the same way, Taliban in Afghanistan appear to be torn, between attempting to play politics in post-American Afghanistan or continuing their guerrilla war against the Kabul government.

While negotiations like this one have been tried before, this is the first time they have been crowned with this kind of success. It could well be a sign that elements of the Taliban are tired of non-stop fighting, and some would like peace if they could get it without giving up their commitment to political Islam.

Contrary to the House Republicans who are slamming President Obama for this achievement, I think the likelihood is that it is negotiations like this one on which the future of Afghanistan depends.

Related video:

VOA: “Obama Announces Afghanistan Withdrawal Plan”

17 Responses

  1. The release of Sgt. Bergdahl along with Obama’s Afghanistan withdrawal plan makes it clear that his “war of necessity” really wasn’t. Before Obama escalated this foolish conflict, many people including you Dr. Cole, warned him against it. Now, over four years later, we can see the results.

    President Obama deliberately confused the public with vague statements and actions linking the Taliban to the real terrorists in al-Qeada. As far as I know, the Taliban in Afghanistan have never attacked another country. The Taliban in Pakistan are in conflict with the Pakistan government, not us.

    • …but they don’t howl “UNCLE!” when we twist their earlobes, and there are all those Hellfires in and coming into inventory, and dudes who like to order their use on Terra-isurgo-funda-militants!!!

  2. Looking at the MSM and other parts of blog space, what does Sgt. Bergdahl’s trade tell us about ourselves?

    At least the prisoner population at Guatabughraib by five souls…

  3. ” Before Obama escalated this foolish conflict, many people including you Dr. Cole, warned him against it.”

    General McChrystal was reportedly one of the promoters of that surge. Now there are reports he is on a list of five people to replace Eric Shinseki at the VA.

    The stormtroopers of the GOP and Faux Newz are ranting and raving about this swap, so that is one sign Obama did the right thing.

    • If Obama trades one Shinseki for a McChrystal and the stormtroopers in the GOP suddenly start singing “WE ARE FAMILY,” there are some BAD GUYS somewhere who need to be bery, bery careful. :(

    • Obama negotiating the release of Sgt. Bergdahl might mean serious conflict with the Republican party as we get closer to the midterms. I can understand why the GOP hardliners are ranting and raving. Bergdalh is like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden.

      Obama seems to have drawn a line in the sand.

      Justin Raimondo’s column at Antiwar.com gives more background. Apparently, Sgt. Bergdahl was disgusted with the whole war in Afghanistan and walked off the base AWOL before the Taliban captured him.

      • “Apparently, Sgt. Bergdahl was disgusted with the whole war in Afghanistan and walked off the base AWOL …”

        This reminds me of someone discussing the carnage on the Western Front during the First World War. He suggested the deserters were the only sane people in that madhouse.

        • I’ve been totally against both wars from the beginning and stopped supporting Obama when he committed 30,000 more troops to his “war of necessity.” Obama called Iraq a “dumb war,” but he made his own dumb move when he let Gates and Petraeus talk him into doing an Afghan surge.

          However, apparently Sgt. Bergdahl either left his post and his weapon while on duty or just walked away after his replacement came on and relieved him. Today, he has gotten criticism from several soldiers who were stationed at his base back in 2009.

          One said this: “I was pissed off then and I’m more pissed off now.”Some of these guys are talking desertion.

          It’ll be very interesting to hear how the Stormtroopers in the GOP try to play this. It’s almost like Obama is dangling a carrot trying to make those war mongers bite like junkyard dogs, but at the same time Obama knows the public is fed up with all these wars.

          If he’s doing that, it’s a clever move and Obama is a VERY clever politician.

        • NBC evening news reported that six U.S. soldiers were killed during the searches for Sgt. Bergdahl, including two from his platoon.

        • To Jack: Yes but the deaths, according to what I’ve read, occurred two to six months after Bergdahl deserted. Not sure that under these circumstances their deaths can be attributed to him. On the other hand, all the “news” is very sketchy. One thing, now that he is released I assume he could be court martialed for desertion.

        • “six U.S. soldiers were killed during the searches…” Well, we’re into Scandal-land, now aren’t we, where the broad view and what, proportionality and balance and all that, go out the window as the yapping dogs of DC get their sharp little puppy teeth into another boot from the mud room.

          How many “US soldiers” (and British and French and Canadian and those other Willing Coalition units) were killed kicking in doors in Kandahar and Wardak, those places that their officers assured them (before zipping back to rear areas) would be where they would earn their place in history by “defeating the enemy” and “winning this war?”

          No hit on you, Jack, you are just reporting what’s been said, but Pat Tillman died on one of a practically uncountable (because buried deep by the System) number of idiotic “missions.”( One hint: Obama, and the machine he represents, could care less if you support him/them or not.) How in hell does even “defeating (now reduced to “weakening”) the Taliban, that collection of groups of warriors and thugs that we happily bribe and get in bed with when it suits us,” advance our security and “national interests?” Let alone the interests of the great mass of ordinary people who pay for all of it? Put a “forward base” or embassy in the middle of a place where you don’t really know the human or physical terrain, impose a bunch of rear-area-generated requirements for “missions” and “patrolling” on the troops from a morally bankrupt “doctrine’ that is all about EMPIRE and its commercial aspects, and you get Kill Squads and torture and rape and “dead of small arms fire,” and “injured by explosion, Wardak, March 15,” and the circle of revenge, the pitiful macho dance that warriors do when some of them kill some of us so we kill some of their “side” so they kill some of our “side, and repeat until once again “we,” finally and expensively, “move in a direction away from the enemy.” Which by the definition we wrote is “out of the country,” since “the enemy”as we define it is ALL AROUND YOU.

          So now all of a sudden, instead of this being “about” EMPIRE and its futilities (albeit with some of its Rulers getting to live really high on the upside and most of the decline), it’s “about” one dude who may just have sickened of the whole thing and tried to walk away — though given the noise and fraud that our MSM and Rulers can generate, one wonders if we will ever know the “truth”. A very few troops walked off into “the economy,” and more effectively stood down by stuff like fake patrolling, in the Vietnam thing, especially toward the later stages as the desire not to be the last one to die in futility grew more poignant. So to protect our internal Narrative, we are going to have to make a traitor, a deserter, a nut case out of Bowe Bergdahl, rather than just a human who was maybe too much human and not enough stiff-necked Troop to Man Up and go on with the Idiocy. And now has his Swift Boat moment…

          I wonder if those “deaths” that the Narrative wants to hang around Bergdahl’s neck will get any detailed attention, with careful interviews of the survivors, gimlet-eyed review of after-action reports (those deep reservoirs of fraud) and so on. 2 to 6 months after? What were the mission parameters and threat environment and all that? Ah, sh_t, it doesn’t matter — it will all be just more of the effing same, more Vietnam, more Grenada, more Panama, more AFRICOM now, more War is nothing but a Racket, now slightly displaced into automation-moderated and -facilitated involvements in killing, for the sake of WHAT, again? The ultimate interoperability of the military caste, all over the planet, so the Brass can take what they want, when they want, but on a more elegant and better PR’d scale than Boko Haram’s Gunmen?

  4. I’m going with Professor Cole’s take on this hostage exchange, and I have my fingers crossed that this deal offers a slim glimmer of hope amid all the dark clouds on the horizon. Even though I was against the war, it would be beneficial for us and all the people in Afghanistan, including the insurgents, that this deal is a good omen, and perhaps, just perhaps, these hardcore insurgents are gradually becoming less rigid and dogmatic in their political strategy once the American troops leave except for that contingent of – what? – 9,800 soldiers Obama wants to leave in place during a gradual draw down. Maybe we can salvage something good after all the blunders and carnage.

  5. The Haqqani group is the most hardline of the 4 major organisations now called “the Taliban” (…) The Haqqanis are said to be close to al-Qaeda
    It could also mean that the US Administration needs desperately the al-Qaeda cannon-fodders in … Syria and elsewhere. Old friends meet again…

  6. Since what to do with the dangerous guys at Guantanamo was an obstacle to shutting it down, that obstacle is now removed, so we can now go forward with the closure…………Also, when did these guys become terrorists? When I last checked with Ronald Reagan they were “freedom fighters”.

  7. I look forward to the day when the US of A decides that the future of Afghanistan does not belong to the US of A.

  8. The real villains of the Bergdahl tale: Exclusive: The right-wing media is denouncing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl as a “deserter” who wasn’t worth ransoming from the Taliban, but the real villains are the architects of the disastrous Iraq and Afghan wars who frivolously put the many Bergdahls in harm’s way,” writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern. – link to consortiumnews.com

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