US agrees to Bagram prison final handover

Posted: March 26, 2013 by Rizwan Riyad in world
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THE US was poised to hand full control of Bagram prison to Afghan authorities yesterday, removing a major obstacle to a security agreement that will enable US troops to remain in Afghanistan after the NATO mission ends next year.

US forces last September transferred into Afghan custody more than 3000 prisoners held in Bagram, but they retained dozens of high-value prisoners and have continued to arrest new suspects over the past six months, infuriating Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Although a handover date for the remaining Afghan prisoners was set for early this month during a visit by US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, the US pulled out at the 11th hour after Mr Karzai told parliament he would release innocent prisoners.

Officials said a deal allowing the final transfer of Bagram to Afghan control was struck at the weekend after Afghan authorities agreed to commission a review board to evaluate whether certain detainees were too dangerous to be released.

Mr Hagel spoke to Mr Karzai about the jail over the weekend. “The (Defence) Secretary welcomed President Karzai’s commitment that the transfer will be carried out in a way that assures the safety of the Afghan people and coalition forces by keeping dangerous individuals detained in a secure and humane manner in accordance with Afghan law,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

The agreement comes as the presidential palace revealed Mr Karzai would fly “within weeks” to the United Arab Emirates state of Qatar to negotiate terms for the opening of a Taliban political office there. Until this year Mr Karzai had opposed the idea of a Qatar office for fear his government would be frozen out of any deal between the US and the militants. The Taliban has refused to negotiate directly with the Afghan government, which it denounces as a US puppet.

The final handover of Bagram, and Mr Karzai’s compromise over the Taliban political office, suggest the President is working hard in his last year in office to ensure that does not prove to be his legacy.

He gave an insight into his concerns during a recent meeting in Kabul with historian William Dalrymple. Dalrymple said Mr Karzai had spoken of the fate of Shah Shuja, the puppet leader whom British colonialists put on the throne in Kabul in 1839 and who was later assassinated.

“His view was that the US were doing to him what the British had done to Shah Shuja, which was to treat him as a puppet and to use him for their own interests,” Dalrymple told AFP. “Karzai thinks Shah Shuja didn’t stress his independence enough, and . . . I do think he is concerned with his legacy.”

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