“If he is released, he will burn our houses again because he doesn’t shake hands with the government,” Khwaja Gul Ahmad, a 74-year old Afghan farmer, told the Wall Street Journal of Mohammed Fazl, an infamous Taliban military leader now set free in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl.
He echoes the sentiments of many villagers in Afghanistan who fear the violence they may once again face should the five men released in exchange for Sergeant Bergdahl return to Afghanistan. The men released include senior military strategists, Taliban negotiators, and even high-level government officials during the Taliban regime, all of which are believed to have committed atrocities while free in Afghanistan. While they will be contained within Qatar for one year, Qatari officials have stated that they will be free within Qatar for the year with little monitoring and then free to return to Afghanistan.
Villagers interviewed by the Wall Street Journal expressed dread at the idea of many of these individuals returning to Afghanistan. Ahmad, the paper notes, reacted viscerally to the news of their fate: “Standing by the grave of his son, Mr. Ahmad’s eyes welled with tears when he learned about Mr. Fazl’s release from a reporter.” Ahmad had lost his son to the Taliban.
In a town ravaged by the Taliban in 1999, villagers note that they were forced to rebuild almost every inch of the town. “There was not a single undamaged house or garden… My entire shop was burned to the ground. There was nothing left,” said shopkeeper Masjidi Fatehzada. Dil Agha, a former Northern Alliance fighter, told the paper that his town was razed to the ground between the time he left to fight the Taliban and the time he returned. “This whole place was completely destroyed… there wasn’t a single building standing,” he said.
The testimony of Afghan villagers who experienced the capacity for destruction of those released first-hand brings into question yet again whether the choice to release these highly dangerous individuals in exchange for Bergdahl, whose loyalty to the military is highly questioned by those who served with him, was the best decision to have made at the time. Afghan villagers also questioned whether Bergdahl was lost or deliberately seeking the Taliban, according to interviews conducted by the Washington Post. “The villagers tried to give him water and bread, but he didn’t take it… we think he probably was high after smoking hashish,” said Ibrahim Manikhel, an Afghan district intelligence chief.