US-Taliban deal raises hopes for Afghan prisoners

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On a chilly late night time in March 2016, hours after the Taliban fighters left Jan Mohammed’s home in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, safety forces barged into his mud home and took him away.

The night time earlier than, the Taliban had forcefully entered Mohammed’s home in Sherzad district, demanding meals and water after escaping an ongoing gun battle with the Afghan safety forces.

“We could not stop the Taliban fighters. How could we dare do that? We were totally helpless against those gunmen,” he recalled the night time that modified his life without end.

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Mohammed, a farmer, was arrested for backing the Taliban – a cost he denies.

“I cannot forget how my children started crying when they [Afghan forces] dragged me out of my house. I heard my daughter saying, ‘please kill me instead and spare my father’s life’,” Mohammed, who was sentenced to 12 years in jail for serving to the Taliban, instructed Al Jazeera from the jail.

He was thrown within the infamous Pul-e-Chakrhi jail, a high-security facility outdoors the capital Kabul identified for its poor situations. The jail has a historical past of violence and torture, with mass graves found relationship again to the time of Kabul’s Soviet Union-backed governments within the late 1970s and 1980s.

Mohammed is among the 5,000 prisoners slated to be launched as a part of an settlement signed between the US and the Taliban armed group, touted because the deal that may finish the US’s longest struggle.

According to the deal, signed within the Qatari capital Doha, the US will pull its troops out of Afghanistan after nearly 19 years in return for a safety assure from the Taliban group. The Taliban has additionally agreed to take part in intra-Afghan talks geared toward establishing peace all through the nation.

The prisoner deal has been clouded by uncertainty because the Western-backed authorities in Kabul known as for a phased launch – a proposal rejected by the Taliban.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani stated the federal government would free 1,500 prisoners within the first part and demanded ensures that the prisoners wouldn’t return to preventing.

The Taliban, nevertheless, stated the cope with the US required Ghani to free all 5,000 prisoners directly with no situations.

The disagreement over the discharge and a political feud on the high stage of Afghan authorities between Ghani and his political rival Abdullah Abdullah, who additionally claimed the presidency following a disputed election, have stalled the US-driven peace course of.

“I am seen as Taliban’s political prisoner, the Taliban are asking for my release because I helped their fighters once by feeding them that night. In reality, I had no other option because those fighters were armed,” Mohammed instructed Al Jazeera from his jail cell.

“I will never forgive those Taliban fighters who entered my house by force, and I will also never forgive those Afghan forces who raided my house.”

‘Broken limbs and skulls’

The checklist of 5,000 prisoners, seen by Al Jazeera, contains the identify of Muslim Afghan, who’s serving 15 years in Pul-e-Charkhi for “carrying explosives”.

Afghan was arrested in 2015 from Salam University, Kabul, the place he was learning regulation. He alleges he was tortured whereas in custody.

“During interrogation, my toenails were pulled out, and I was given electric shocks every day. I would be put in cold water ranging from 10 minutes to half an hour during winter season. I would pass out. When I gained my senses, I would realize I was laid down in the cold and freezing underground basement with a light blanket covering me,” Afghan instructed Al Jazeera.

“In cold and freezing winters of Kabul, I was asked to stand all night long in the hallways of the prison, my hands tied up and every time I moved or passed out, they kicked and punched me to wake me up. This went on until the next morning,”

“They continued to torture me because I wouldn’t confess because there was nothing to confess!”

Sources within the Afghan authorities and police who want to not be named instructed Al Jazeera that Afghan’s uncle is a part of the Haqqani Network – a Taliban affiliate – designated a terror organisation by Washington.

Afghan admitted his uncle’s hyperlinks to Haqqani Network, however stated he and 18 members of his household who had been arrested on the time had no hyperlinks to his uncle. Other members of his household had been launched after spending 3-Four years in jail.

“My brother Muslim [Afghan] and other 18 members were arrested just because our uncle, who we don’t have any links with, is with the terrorist Haqqani network. I went to university, my brother did, we were seeking education and working in reputable places,” Afghan’s brother Sangin Ahmed instructed Al Jazeera.

“Why are we paying the value of another person’s wrongdoings?

“They have tortured my brother and have sentenced him to 15 years for no crime committed. My mother cries every day and fasts and prays for his release,” Ahmed stated.

Last week, Human Rights Watch expressed considerations over the “fundamental issues” within the Afghan justice system.

“Although Afghanistan incorporated war crimes and crimes against humanity as part of its 2017 penal code, its investigations have focused only on attacks by Islamic State [ISIL] groups – not alleged crimes by government forces or the Taliban,” the assertion stated.

“This failure to investigate has created a major problem for potential prisoner releases. Officials trying to ascertain whether convicted Taliban identified for possible release may have committed war crimes won’t get any guidance from the vague charges under which many are held.”

The assertion additionally stated the federal government is imprisoning many individuals beneath the “overly broad terrorism laws” which will make it tough to find out critical crimes dedicated by a prisoner.

“And secret trials and torture to coerce confessions may make it impossible to determine which convicted prisoners actually committed serious crimes,” it stated including that worldwide humanitarian regulation encourages amnesties on the finish of hostilities, however neither the discharge of struggle criminals nor extended imprisonment on “dubious charges will bring Afghanistan closer to justice”.

Unresolved dispute 

Unable to persuade Ghani and Abdullah to finish their political feud that was jeopardising the US-led peace effort, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo introduced on Monday his authorities’s determination to lower $1bn of the US help Afghanistan receives.  

On Wednesday, the Afghan authorities stated it could meet Taliban representatives to debate the prisoner launch.

If the Ghani-Abdullah dispute continues, it dangers weakening the federal government additional and derailing the potential of an intra-Afghan dialogue with the Taliban.

Last week, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad stated the coronavirus pandemic added urgency to prisoner releases, advising they happen “as soon as possible”.

The prisoner launch will now start on March 31, the Taliban introduced on Tuesday after holding talks with Afghan authorities officers.

Back in Pul-e-Charkhi jail, Mohammed stated he prays to be again along with his household day-after-day.

“How I hope that God will listen to my prayers and that peace will come to Afghanistan,” he stated.

“Yes, there are Taliban fighters in this prison, and they proudly say that we are with Taliban, but there are innocent people like me as well here, and they need to be released.”