By Jibran Ahmad
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – The Taliban have appointed five former commanders who spent more than a decade as prisoners in Guantanamo Bay as members of the political office in Qatar where they will take part in any future peace talks, officials in the movement said.
The five commanders, Mohammad Fazl, Mohammed Nabi, Khairullah Khairkhwa, Abdul Haq Wasiq and Noorullah Noori, were held for 12 years in the U.S. detention centre before being released in 2012 as part of a prisoner exchange in return for U.S. soldier Berg Bergdahl.
They were settled in Qatar following their release but until now had not been directly involved in political activities, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said.
The appointments were made as momentum gathers for talks to end 17 years of war in Afghanistan.
Qatar has emerged as a principal contact point between the Taliban and the U.S. government. Earlier this month, Taliban officials met the recently appointed U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in the Qatari capital Doha, having already met Alice Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, there earlier in the year.
A Taliban official in Qatar said that while the former commanders, who were close to the movement’s late founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, had not been attached to the political office earlier, but the office has sought their opinions and advice in the past.
“They have been contributing to certain important matters in their private capacity. Now they are officially declared as members of the Qatar-based political council and would represent Taliban movement in peace talks with the foreign leaders,” said a member of the Taliban political office in Qatar.
Requesting anonymity, the official said the five Taliban leaders had been subject to restrictions on movement earlier, but they would now be able to travel and attend peace negotiations.
The appointments follow the release by Pakistan last week of senior Taliban figure Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)