KABUL, Afghanistan - Senior Afghan officials said Saturday, March 10, that five Taliban detainees held by the US in the infamous military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have agreed to a proposed transfer to the Gulf state of Qatar.
"We are hopeful this will be a positive step towards peace efforts," Aimal Faizi, President Hamid Karzai's spokesman, told Reuters.
Among the prisoners who may be sent to Qatar is Mohammed Fazl, a "high-risk" detainee alleged to be responsible for the killing of thousands of minority Shi'ite Muslims between 1998 and 2001.
They also include Noorullah Noori, a former senior military commander; Abdul Haq Wasiq, a former deputy intelligence minister; and Khairullah Khairkhwa, a former interior minister.
The expected release comes amid a series of good-faith measures that could set in motion the first substantial political negotiations on the conflict in Afghanistan since the Taliban government was toppled in 2001 in a US-led invasion.
It was agreed following a visit by Karzai's top aide, Ibrahim Spinzada, to the Guantanamo facility this week to secure approval from the five Taliban prisoners to be moved to Qatar.
Karzai's government has demanded the five former senior members of the Taliban government, held at Guantanamo Bay for a decade, give their consent before they are transferred to the small Gulf state where they would be under Qatar's custody.
Guantanamo Bay is notorious for rights abuses and torture, with many prisoners over the years have committed suicide and gone on extensive hunger strikes.
After taking office in 2009, US President Barack Obama pledged to shut down the camp within a year, a pledge that was never fulfilled.
Finalizing the deal, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasool will visit Qatar to meet government officials to discuss reconciliation with the Taliban.
Rassoul will visit Qatar in "the near future on the invitation of the Qatari government", his spokesman Janan Mosazi said.
The minister will hold talks on the relationship between the nations and also "discuss the Afghan peace process," including "the idea of establishing an office... in Qatar to facilitate the peace process," Mosazi said.
The five detainees would be re-united with their families in Qatar if the transfer takes place.
The Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s, were ousted by the United States, which invaded Afghanistan shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
Since then, Taliban fighters have engaged in protracted guerrilla warfare against the US-led foreign troops and the West-backed Hamid Karzai government.
The Taliban announced in January they would open a political office in Qatar, suggesting they may be willing to engage in negotiations that would likely give them government positions or control over some of their historical southern heartland.
The transfer idea is part of US efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table to avoid prolonged instability in Afghanistan after foreign combat troops leave the country at the end of 2014.
The Obama administration's peace initiative may offer the United States a historic opportunity to broker an end to a war that began as the response to the September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on the United States.
US officials also hope the peace initiative will gain enough traction to enable Obama to announce the establishment of full-fledged political talks between the Karzai government and the Taliban at a NATO summit in May.
Twenty Afghans, including five officers of the former Taliban regime, are being held in the US-leased naval base at Guantanamo.