Centre for International and Defence Policy

Centre for International and Defence Policy
Centre for International and Defence Policy

Taliban release of Colin Rutherford could be linked to peace talks.

Christian Leuprecht
​John Paul Tasker, CBC News, 13 January 2016

Colin Rutherford is walking free after more than five harrowing years in Taliban captivity, but the circumstances around his release are cloaked in secrecy.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion — and officials at Global Affairs Canada — will only say Rutherford has been released to authorities in Afghanistan, and that the small Gulf state of Qatar had a role in the mediation.

One expert said the timing of Rutherford's release on Monday, the same day that Afghan peace talks began in Islamabad, is likely more than a coincidence.

"It seems a little suspect, in terms of the timing, to put it charitably," Christian Leuprecht, a professor at the Royal Military College and Queen's University in Kingston, said in an interview with CBC News. "When they've held someone for five years, why release them now?

"It comes at a time when the Qataris are trying to get the Afghan peace process back on the road, and this could be an olive branch."

The Taliban have so far been excluded from nascent peace talks. The four participants — Afghanistan, the U.S., Pakistan and China — are hoping to bring a "permanent peace" to the country after more than 14 years of bloodshed. But without one of the main aggressors at the table, the talks are stuck in neutral.

The Taliban's release of Rutherford, and other hostages such U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl (who faces a court martial in the United States for desertion and is the subject of an investigation by the Serial podcast), could be seen as an attempt to curry favour with Western powers and secure a seat at talks to decide the fate of the country they've long tried to control, Leuprecht said.

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