According to a report in The Guardian on Tuesday, the United States has agreed "in principle" to release high-ranking Taliban officials from Guantanamo Bay in return for the Afghan insurgents' agreement to open a political liaison office for peace negotiations with the "international community" in Qatar.
The Guardian adds:
According to sources familiar with the talks in the US and in Afghanistan, the handful of Taliban figures will include Mullah Khair Khowa, a former interior minister, and Noorullah Noori, a former governor in northern Afghanistan.
More controversially, the Taliban are demanding the release of the former army commander Mullah Fazl Akhund. Washington is reported to be considering formally handing him over to the custody of another country, possibly Qatar.
The releases would be to reciprocate for Tuesday's announcement from the Taliban that they are prepared to open a political office in Qatar to conduct peace negotiations "with the international community" – the most significant political breakthrough in ten years of the Afghan conflict.
Guardian reports that the Taliban are holding only one American soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, a 25-year-old sergeant captured in June 2009, but it is not clear whether he would be freed as part of the deal.
"To take this step, the [Obama] administration has to have sufficient confidence that the Taliban are going to reciprocate," said former Obama adviser on Afghanistan Vali Nasr. "It is going to be really risky. Guantánamo is a very sensitive issue politically."
Nasr, currently a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, said the Taliban's Qatar announcement was a significant occurrence.
"If it had not happened then the idea of reconciliation would have been completely finished. The Qatar office is akin to the Taliban forming a Sinn Féin, a political wing to conduct negotiations," Nasr said.
He added: "The next phase will need concessions on both sides. This doesn't mean we are now on autopilot to peace."