For the last few weeks there is been increasing speculation about possible talks between the Taliban and the United States. It now appears however that there may be preconditions on the part of the Taliban.
This week they are proposing to exchange a US soldier they have held captive since 2009 for five prisoners held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay. The five prisoners are all senior Taliban operatives.
Sergeant Bowe Bergdahi of Haalley, Idaho was captured by the Taliban on June 30, 2009 and he is the only known US prisoner of war in Afghanistan. It is believed he is being held somewhere in Pakistan.
According to the Taliban spokesman Bergdahi is in good condition despite his long captivity. Among the prisoners the Taliban wishes to have released are a senior military commander and a former governor of the province of Herat.
The release of these prisoners is considered to be a higher priority for the Taliban than peace talks and thus may well be a precondition to such talks. US officials have made it clear that the release of Bergdahi is a top priority and it is not unusual for prisoner swaps to take place as a good-faith gesture at the beginning of peace talks.
The sergeant’s parents received a letter from him within the last month suggesting he is indeed still alive. The Taliban has stated that while they do want peace talks they will continue to be on the offensive and will continue to stage attacks.
This will certainly be a difficult decision for the Obama administration. Obviously we want our prisoners to be brought home and peace talks if successful would make things much easier in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the rest of the Middle East.
On the other hand there is considerable doubt as to whether the Taliban would honor a peace agreement and if not returning key operatives to them would obviously be a bad thing.
I certainly hope the administration at least explores this option but does so cautiously and makes the best decision possible.