Latest Stories

Afghan detainees walk free from jail in push for peace

Released Taliban prisoners greet their relatives after a ceremony in Pul-e-Charkhi jail on the outskirts of Kabul on January 4, 2013. With tears streaming down their rugged faces, scores of Afghan prisoners embraced waiting relatives and walked to freedom — the latest government move to foster reconciliation after 11 years of war. The 80 men, all wearing white skull caps, were released on Friday at a ceremony held inside Pul-e-Charkhi, Afghanistan’s largest prison located on dusty flat lands east of the capital Kabul. AFP / MASSOUD HOSSAINI

KABUL – With tears streaming down their faces, scores of suspected Afghan militants embraced waiting relatives and walked to freedom — just one sign of increasing attempts at reconciliation after 11 years of war.

About 80 men, all wearing white skull caps, were released from jail on Friday at a ceremony inside Pul-e-Charkhi, Afghanistan’s largest prison located on dusty flatlands east of the capital Kabul.

Most had been detained by US-led foreign troops hunting down Taliban militants and were held at Bagram airfield, where the international force (ISAF) is based, before being transferred into Afghan custody.

President Hamid Karzai, who will hold talks with President Barack Obama in Washington this week, has insisted all prisoners are handed over as Afghanistan takes over security ahead of the pull-out of foreign troops in 2014.

But US officials have often expressed fears that some detainees are released only to return immediately to the battlefield.

“It has been 20 months I spent in jail,” one prisoner in his 30s told reporters, declining to give his name. “I was taken in (the southern city of) Kandahar. I don’t know why I was arrested but I was taken by foreign troops.”

He said he had been treated well, but another man said he had been arrested in the northern province of Sari Pol and then abused by Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS).

“These prisoners released today were not criminals at all. I was accused of being a Taliban man, but I am innocent,” he said. “I spent two and a half years in jail.

“We were treated very badly by the NDS, their behaviour was horrific,” he said as he prepared to leave the jail after a ceremony of speeches and prayers followed by a celebration lunch.

The men were among hundreds of prisoners being freed this month as the government looks to build bridges with opposition groups, including militants who have waged a bloody insurgency against the US-backed government since 2001.

General Gulam Farooq, who took over running Bagram prison from the US last year, declined to say how many of the men were proven Taliban fighters but stressed that all had been carefully vetted before release.

“After many processes of investigation and evaluation by the defence ministry and the High Peace Council (which heads efforts to make peace with the Taliban), a total of 485 prisoners will be freed from Pul-e-Charkhi,” he said.

“They have also signed a pledge not to be involved in any militant activity.”

Such reassurances have failed to convince many analysts, who also point out that if the men are innocent or low-level Taliban they will be unable to encourage insurgent leaders to join future peace talks.

Farooq insisted that US officials were fully supportive of Afghanistan taking unilateral decisions on the releases and added that the policy was in line with national law.

But there are fears that the government in Kabul is taking increasingly desperate steps to kick-start peace moves before the Afghan army and police take on full responsibility for security.

The High Peace Council said it was “premature” to assess the impact of the releases and added that it hoped the men would play their part in the peace process.

Among those being allowed home this month are prisoners who have already been taken back to provinces including Uruzgan, Khost and Kunar, the heartlands of Islamist violence.

The fate of Bagram detainees has become a symbol of Afghan sovereignty for President Karzai, who in November castigated the US for delaying the transfer of all prisoners.

Karzai last year demanded full authority over Bagram prison and its 3,000 inmates as a condition for signing a pact covering Afghan-US relations after the 2014 withdrawal.

Further negotiations on the pact will take place when the leaders meet in Washington, with the number of US troops remaining in Afghanistan to tackle Al-Qaeda militants high on the agenda.

Human rights campaigners have regularly criticised Bagram prison, saying it fails to comply with international norms as some inmates are detained arbitrarily without trial or knowledge of the charges against them.

Pakistan last week released eight Taliban prisoners, including Nooruddin Turabi who was justice minister during the extremists’ 1996-2001 regime, in another move designed to usher Afghan militants to the negotiating table.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Afghan , Afghanistan , Barack Obama , Hamid Karzai , ISAF , National Directorate of Security , Pul-e-Charkhi , Taliban , United States , Washington

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  2. ‘No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled’
  3. More legal woes for Cedric Lee
  4. Massive infra spending set
  5. OFW brings MERS virus to Philippines
  6. DOJ to NBI: Arrest Cedric Lee, 4 others
  7. Cardinal Tagle to faithful: Join politics to clean it
  8. Estrada, Gigi Reyes denied access to evidence from other respondents
  9. Lacson’s wife loses diamond earring to thieves but recovers jewelry quickly with police arrest
  10. DOJ orders arrest of Cedric Lee
  1. Suspect in Vhong Navarro mauling tries to leave PH
  2. MH370 co-pilot made mid-flight phone call – report
  3. Netizens cry: 6/55 Lotto was rigged
  4. I’ll follow my conscience on Estrada, says JV Ejercito
  5. ‘Wife of Jesus’ theory papyrus not fake – Harvard study
  6. Fr. Suarez says last Mass on Easter before returning donated land to San Miguel
  7. Gay college instructor arrested for oral sex with student
  8. ‘King’ Yabut and I: Driver bares Makati dad ‘abuses’
  9. It was difficult having Japanese blood
  10. Palace: We can’t blame increase in population on Vitangcol
  1. KL confirms Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 ended in Indian Ocean
  2. MRT passengers pass the hat for 6-year-old Ashley
  3. Pork payoffs to newscasters Erwin Tulfo, Del Prado, others bared
  4. UP back on top as ‘average’ student aces bar
  5. Rookie, lady cops lauded for quick response to MOA heist
  6. Model Helena Belmonte wished ‘to slash her wrist and hope to die’
  7. Malaysia averts another air tragedy; pilot lands troubled plane safely
  8. Revilla says he was joking; Lacson stands by his story
  9. Revilla ‘consulted’ Lacson on how he evaded arrest
  10. Police rule out foul play in Helena Belmonte’s death as boyfriend is ‘traumatized’


  • Henares on Pacquiao bashing: I did not start this
  • Drilon, Nancy Binay urge Filipinos to strengthen faith
  • ‘Yolanda’ toll now at 6,300 – NDRRMC
  • ‘Mom, I love you,’ says text from student on sinking ferry
  • Moderate earthquake jolts southern Iran
  • Sports

  • Power Pinays smash India in Asian Women’s Club volleyball opener
  • PH youth boxers off to stumbling start in AIBA World tilt
  • Durant has 42, Thunder beat Pistons 112-111
  • Walker leads Bobcats over Bulls in OT, 91-86
  • Man City slips further out of title contention
  • Lifestyle

  • Pro visual artists, lensmen to judge Pagcor’s photo contest
  • ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  • This is not just a farm
  • Clams and garlic, softshell crab risotto–not your usual seafood fare for Holy Week
  • Moist, extra-tender blueberry muffins
  • Entertainment

  • Will Arnett files for divorce from Amy Poehler
  • American rapper cuts own penis, jumps off building
  • Jay Z to bring Made in America music fest to LA
  • Why Lucky has not bought an engagement ring for Angel
  • Derek more private with new girlfriend
  • Business

  • Asia stocks fail to match Wall Street gains
  • Fired Yahoo exec gets $58M for 15 months of work
  • PH presses bid to keep rice import controls
  • PSEi continues to gain
  • Number of retrenched workers rose by 42% in ’13
  • Technology

  • Netizens seething in anger over Aquino ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Filipinos #PrayForSouthKorea
  • Taylor Swift tries video blogging, crashes into fan’s bridal shower
  • DOF: Tagaytay, QC best at handling funds
  • Smart phone apps and sites perfect for the Holy Week
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 17, 2014
  • A humbler Church
  • Deepest darkness
  • ‘Agnihotra’ for Earth’s health
  • It’s the Holy Week, time to think of others
  • Global Nation

  • Syria most dangerous country for journalists, PH 3rd—watchdog
  • Japan says visa-free entry still a plan
  • First Fil-Am elected to Sierra Madre, Calif. city council
  • UC Irvine cultural night to dramatize clash of values in immigrant family
  • Filipino sweets and info served at UC Berkeley Spring Fest
  • Marketplace