HAILEY • As Afghanistan braces for its first Democratic shift in power, many American foreign policy experts believe voters hold in their hands not only the fate of their country, but also of Bowe Bergdahl.
Bergdahl, a 28-year-old Hailey native, is America’s only current prisoner of war and is believed to be held by a Taliban network in Pakistan.
Eleven candidates are competing for President Hamid Karzai’s seat and many expect the election to require a run-off race between the top two contenders. Karzai has been blamed for spoiling negotiations between the United States and Bergdahl’s captors.
For years, America offered to trade five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl. But the Taliban also wanted a role in the post-war Afghani government.
Ideally, American negotiators could separate negotiations for Bowe’s release from negotiations with the Taliban to take part in a post-U.S. Afghan government. But the Taliban have insisted, meaning the next Afghanistan’s president will need to be at the table for the negotiations, linking Bergdahl’s release to the fate of the country itself.
The willingness of the Afghan government to participate in such peace talks depends on what candidate is elected. Many also worry about America’s willingness to allow the Taliban a say in the country’s government.
The best hope for Bergdahl remains in Afghanistan electing a strong, nationalist leader who will crack down on the government’s corruption and give his people an alternative to Taliban rule, said Anish Goel, a senior South Asia fellow with the New America Foundation.
Karzai’s government hasn’t been able to stitch the tribal country together, allowing the Taliban to continue holding power, he said.
Goel said he is optimistic negotiations for Bergdahl will begin again.
“Whether they will conclude? It is going to be a long time, and how fast it can conclude depends on the United States and the concessions they are willing to make,” he said.