Afghans involved in the discussions were still angling to get all 17 prisoners, including the five most senior men, released or transferred. The Taliban has demanded release of all the Guantánamo detainees as a condition for talks.
The Taliban abandoned direct talks in March, accusing the U.S. of reneging on several promises. The United States considers the talks suspended, not dead. The U.S. and the Afghan government are pursuing several new avenues to restart talks, including the use of proxy emissaries to the Taliban, diplomats said.
Karzai has long sought the return of all 17 Afghans imprisoned at Guantánamo, men he sometimes calls brothers, as a point of national pride. He has argued that their imprisonment at the detested Guantánamo prison undermines his credibility as a national leader, and that Afghanistan’s own institutions should deal with captured insurgents.
The U.S. has said publicly that, in regards to the five senior Taliban, they would be transferred to another country’s control, not released. But terms for the proposed transfer to Qatar were fairly loose. Officials briefed on the discussions said the men would have to agree not to return to fighting, forswear any ties to al-Qaida, and submit to a ban on their travel. Beyond that it was not clear how closely they would be controlled by the Qatar government.
The Taliban would have been asked to release Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only U.S. prisoner of war from the Afghan conflict.
Qatar recently sent a letter to U.S. officials with proposals to rekindle talks, a U.S. official said, but it was not clear whether the new proposal for transfer to Afghanistan was among them.
The latest Bagram proposal would appeal to the Taliban, Qasemyar said.
“The High Peace Council could use that opportunity as a goodwill gesture,” he said in an interview.
Qasemyar said that the proposal may have benefits for the U.S. beyond boosting his organization’s bargaining power with the Taliban.
“What I gathered from what I heard in Washington is the U.S. government was afraid that if they released a prisoner and he went back to fighting,” the Obama administration “would lose faith before the Congress or before the people of the United States,” he said.
A way around that concern, Qasemyar said, is “to send them to the Afghan government. Then that responsibility would be shifted to our side.”
Karzai supports the new proposal, Qasemyar said, despite some concern in the Afghan government that the five could become a rallying point for ethnic tension in Afghanistan.
Mullah Norullah Nori, for example, could be a problem for Karzai. He was a senior Taliban commander in Mazar-e-Sharif when the Taliban fought U.S. forces in late 2001. He previously was a Taliban governor in two provinces in Northern Afghanistan, where he has been accused of ordering the massacre of thousands of Shiite Muslims.
Associated Press writers Heidi Vogt in Kabul and Lolita C. Baldor and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report. Riechmann reported from Kabul, Afghanistan.