1,000 Taliban could be freed from notorious prison through amnesty scheme

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Kabul, June 8 (ANI): The head of the Pul-e-Charki prison, Afghanistan's most notorious detention centre, has revealed that nearly 1,000 Taliban inmates could be freed from as part of an amnesty deal offered by Hamid Karzai's government.

General Abdulbakhi Behsudi told the Globe And Mail that in the wake of the recent peace jirga,the first move toward a widespread prisoner release could involve amnesty for thousands of jailed insurgents across Afghanistan.

In theory, the strategy is meant to foster a sense of goodwill, building trust as the government seeks to engage Taliban leadership in political negotiations to end the nine-year war.

However, in a country where the courts are notoriously opaque, where judges are bribed and justice is bought, the prospect of a prisoner release is fraught with complication.

Nowhere is this more evident than inside the crumbling brick walls of Pul-e-Charki prison, where prison officials allowed The Globe to interview several Taliban prisoners.

Behsudi keeps a collection of evidence confiscated from these inmates in a locked glass cabinet, proof, he said, of their intractable criminal minds.

"These people will never be loyal to the government, because they are dark thinkers, they think dark things," said Behsudi, a heavy-set man dressed in crisp army fatigues, brandishing a sword confiscated from a prisoner's bed.

Pul-e-Charki has about 4,620 inmates, he said, with the Taliban forming the most cohesive category of prisoners.

Only a small fraction of those - the ones caught with "a smoking gun" - would be exempt from Mr. Karzai's proposed amnesty.

"In my opinion, it is difficult to separate those involved in fighting and those who were put in jail because of some wrong report," said Behsudi, who has presided over this jail for more than three years.

"To us, they are all Talibs ... Until their leaders ask them to change they won't because they are told all in this life doesn't matter. That if they die, they will go to paradise."

Pul-e-Charkhi, a sprawling complex on the eastern edge of Kabul was built in the Soviet era and quickly became notorious for torture, forced disappearances and executions.

Historically, every regime that has ruled Afghanistan has sent its worst enemies here. Today, the facility is undergoing a massive renovation, partially funded by the United States, because the prison population is swelling with Taliban insurgents as the war in Afghanistan rages on.

Most are kept in Block 2, known as the "Barn." According to prison officials, more than 600 inmates - most of them Taliban - take part in Pul-e-Charki's educational programs, which provide English, Pashto and Dari lessons as well as courses devoted to the study of the Koran.

Prisoners are also entitled to earn money - about 70 dollars a month - weaving carpets or producing handicrafts, as part of a prison rehabilitation program.

There are sports activities, gym classes and two hours of outdoor time, which most inmates spend sunbathing. (ANI)

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