On Friday, an agreement was reached between the U.S. and Afghanistan concerning the fate of a U.S-run detention center in Parwan, Afghanistan. The center houses approximately 3,000 Afghan citizens under U.S. guard. According to the accord, these prisoners are to be transferred to Afghan control inside six months (the first 500 within 45 days). But although this seems like a substantial step toward progress on the surface, it may not be as monumental as its being presented.
The prison isn’t truly going to be under Afghan control. In reality, the U.S. is only relinquishing the formality of operating the facility. The Afghan officials who are to be “in charge” of the prisoners would still have to submit a request to a joint committee for permission to release any of them. The committee would be headed by the International Security Assistance Force commander and the Afghan defense minister.
The accord does not actually apply to all detainees in the facility. There are about 50 prisoners held at Parwan that are not Afghan. The agreement makes no mention of these prisoners or their fates.
As for the prisoners that are to be “transferred,” there are really only being moved to the other side of the same facility. Not exactly what I would consider a transfer. Eventually the prisoners are to be taken to new facilities which are currently being built in Parwan and Pol-I-Charki, at which time their transfer will seem more legitimate.
And despite all these efforts to portray the Afghans as in control of the center, U.S. forces are going to remain at Parwan. They will be present in a “technical advisory and logistical support” role, a position from which they will essentially be able to oversee the facility.
With all the praise being lavished on this agreement by both Afghan and American authorities, it would seem like it represents a huge breakthrough in the tense relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan. After all, U.S. General John Allen (commander of ISAF) called it “an important step forward in our Strategic Partnership negotiations,” after more than a year of negotiations with little progress.
This agreement doesn’t seem to place much faith in the Afghan officers who are being entrusted with running the facility. Rather than giving them the freedom of discretion to make decisions and actually control the prison, we insist upon playing a Big Brother role and retaining effective power over the institution.
So despite the celebrations of this “step forward” in the tension between the U.S. and Afghanistan, this agreement really doesn’t make any substantial progress in their relationship. Instead, it is simply more of the general policy of American forces to retain control in whatever way possible.
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