Thursday came and went, and the planned start of high-profile tripartite peace talks never happened. The Taliban office in Qatar remains open, but there was no negotiation ongoing.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is reportedly still irked that the office initially flew the flag of pre-occupation Afghanistan, which it has since removed. US officials say that they anticipate the talks will eventually start, but other than hoping it would be “in the next few days” no date was set.
This isn’t the first time these talks have been tried though, nor the first time they’ve been cancelled seemingly over nothing. History suggests a “few days” timeline is unreasonably optimistic, as in the past these windows close and then another attempt isn’t made for months or even a year.
The Taliban is stepping up to try to save things early though too, and has publicly proposed a prisoner exchange with the United States. They would return Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, captured in 2009, in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay-held Taliban leaders.
Five to one is a remarkably good ratio, as in the past other militant factions have managed to get tens or even hundreds of their side freed for a single prisoner. Israel traded over 1,000 prisoners for Gilad Shalit, though they later reneged and recaptured a large number of them.
But while Shalit’s capture remained headline news in Israel for years, America has all but forgotten Bergdahl since his capture. This will certainly lessen the pressure on the Obama Administration to seriously try to negotiate his release. On the other hand, if President Obama is serious about salvaging the peace talks, making this deal would be a good way to give it some momentum.
Either way, it’s entirely unclear what it would take to get the Karzai government back on board for the talks, and US officials are openly expressing annoyance at Karzai’s quick exit before the talks even properly began.