1 The Long War Journal: Pakistan frees former Guantanamo prisoner, Afghan Taliban commander

Written by Bill Roggio on May 20, 2008 12:58 AM to 1 The Long War Journal

Available online at: http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2008/05/pakistan_frees_forme.php

Abdulrahim Muslim Dost, a former prisoner at the US military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, was exchanged for Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan. Click to view.

As the Pakistani government nears the completion of a peace deal with Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, details have emerged on the prisoner swaps between the government and the Taliban. The government has freed a Taliban commander in Afghanistan and a former inmate at Guantanamo Bay along with scores of Taliban fighters in exchange for Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan and captive Pakistani soldiers. The government also paid several hundred thousand dollars in ransom to the Taliban.

The government has released 55 Taliban operatives, including Mufti Yousuf and Muslim Dost, the Asia Times reported. In exchange, the Taliban released Tariq Azizuddin, Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan, along with "dozens" of Pakistani soldiers and paramilitaries captured during battles since last summer. Azizuddin, along with his bodyguard and driver, was kidnapped by the Taliban on Feb. 11 as he headed to Kabul through the Khyber Pass.

Among those released were Mufti Yousuf, a Taliban leader in Afghanistan, and Abdulrahim Muslim Dost, a former prisoner at the US military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Abdulrahim Muslim Dost was arrested along with his brother by Pakistani intelligence in November 2001 for links to al Qaeda. Dost is an Afghan national, a journalist, and a poet. He was a member of al Qaeda ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e Islami and worked for three pro-Taliban publications.

His capture and detention brought condemnation from international human rights groups. While in Guantanamo Bay, Dost wrote poems that "lampooned his military captors, mocking what he perceived as ridiculous - women with men's haircuts, men without beards," The Guardian reported.

Dost was freed from Guantanamo Bay in September 2004 after the US military said he was "no longer an enemy combatant." He was transferred to Afghan custody, where he was freed in April 2005. He returned to Peshawar, where he published The Broken Shackles of Guantanamo. In the book, Dost was critical of Pakistan's intelligence services and claimed the US military tortured him during his detention. Dost was detained by Pakistani's Crime Investigation Department in September 2006, much to the consternation of Amnesty International.

Mufti Yousuf is described as "top commander from eastern Afghanistan" by the Asia Times. He served in the Taliban government's embassy in Pakistan prior to the fall of the regime in 2002. During the US assault on Afghanistan, Yousef shepherded reporters from Pakistan into Afghanistan to report on US airstrikes around Jalalabad in Nangarhar province in November 2001.


Multimedia presentation of the senior Taliban commanders in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Click to view.

Pakistan pays the Taliban

The Pakistani government also paid a ransom to Baitullah Mehsud to secure the release of Azizuddin. Baitullah is said to have demanded the release of Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, the Taliban's former minister of defense and a member of the Shura Majlis, or executive council. Obaidullah was captured by the Pakistani military during a raid in Quetta in February 2008 as he was raising money for operations in Afghanistan. He was transferred to US custody in Afghanistan, according to the Asia Times, so 20 million Pakistani rupees, or about $287,000, was handed over to the Taliban to ensure the deal.

The status of other senior Taliban leaders is as of yet unknown. The Taliban initially demanded the release of Mansour Dadullah, the former Taliban commander of southern Afghanistan who was dismissed by Mullah Omar, in exchange for Azizuddin. Mansour Dadullah was captured by Pakistani security forces during a raid on a religious seminary in Baluchistan.

Afghan Taliban in Pakistan

The release of Dost and Yousuf and the demands for the release of Dadullah and Obaidullah share a common thread: each of these men have direct links back to Afghanistan. Yousuf, Dadullah, and Obaidullah are operational Taliban commanders inside Afghanistan, while Dost is an Afghan national with links to the Afghan Taliban.

The Pakistani government has made it clear it is suing for peace with the Taliban to further security inside their nation, and has no concerns about the cross-border attacks into Afghanistan or the use of its territory as a safe haven for the Taliban and al Qaeda. The release of senior Afghan Taliban commanders shows the Pakistani government is willing to see the violence spike in Afghanistan in the hopes suicide bombers will ply their trade across the border.

But, as the May 18 suicide attack in Mardan shows, the Taliban see no need to halt attacks inside Pakistan. The Taliban said it carried out the strike in retaliation for military operations in Kohat and Darra Adam Khel, where the Taliban have shut down the Indus Highway, and last week's US airstrike on Damadola, which targeted a Taliban and al Qaeda safe house.

For details on the proposed peace agreement in South Waziristan, see Pakistan is negotiating a new peace agreement with Baitullah Mehsud.

See The Fall of Northwestern Pakistan: An Online History for more information on the rise of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan and the peace agreements signed between the government and the Taliban.