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Afghan peace process ‘hasn’t even begun, says US envoy

Last updated: Friday, January 18, 2013 12:33 AM

KABUL — A real peace process in Afghanistan has not begun and the United States does not know what has happened to Taliban prisoners released by Pakistan, the US Ambassador to Kabul said Thursday.

Pakistan said 26 prisoners were freed late last year in a bid to kick-start peace talks ahead of the withdrawal of US-led NATO troops from Afghanistan, whose government is under pressure from an 11-year Taliban insurgency.

“We don’t know, frankly, what has happened to the people that the Pakistanis have released,” Ambassador James Cunningham told a news briefing.

“We would have preferred to have greater visibility into that, but still it’s positive that they were released, I think, from the Afghan point of view.”

With the control of prisoners in Afghanistan a major issue between the US and the government of President Hamid Karzai, Cunningham said some freed prisoners had returned to Taliban ranks in senior positions in the past.

A peace process “hasn’t even really begun”, he said. “Our goal is the beginning, if not the conclusion of, a serious process on peace and reconciliation as soon as possible — but so far it hasn’t proven possible... to get that going,” he said.

Washington began tentative moves towards peace with the Taliban a year ago. But the Islamists broke off the talks a few months later, apparently over the failure of the US to free Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.

Meanwhile, NATO’s Afghan strategy faces a serious test in coming months with the Taliban expected to step up attacks on local forces taking over security, a senior officer said Thursday.

US-led NATO forces are handing over more and more duties as the Afghanistan army this year takes the lead role in combat. But a decline in Taliban activity, which began in 2009, should not be taken as guaranteed to continue, said the officer. “They have not taken a (time-out),” he said, adding: “We think they are going to come at the Afghan” forces as the fighting season returns with improved weather. — AFP

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