Afghanistan has taken full control of its Bagram military prison from the United States, ending a long-running controversy which has undermined relations between the two countries.
Two weeks ago the handover was cancelled at the eleventh hour amid American concerns that prisoners would be released to rejoin the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
The prison carries a huge amount of symbolism. It is seen as emblematic of America’s power in Afghanistan and has become a central pillar of President Hamid Karzai’s struggle to regaincontrol of key matters before the US withdraws combat troopsnext year.
A deal was finally brokered on Saturday in a telephone call between Chuck Hagel, the US secretary of defence, and President Karzai.
“This ceremony highlights an increasingly confident, capable and sovereign Afghanistan,” said General Joseph Dunford, the commander of the international coalition in Afghanistan, in a statement.
Few details of the agreement have been released but a senior defence official said that the Afghans had given “private assurances” that the most dangerous prisoners would not be released.
In September, the US handed responsibility for more than 3,000 prisoners to Afghan authorities. That deal left out hundreds of prisoners detained since March 2012, when the original hand
over was agreed, as well as 50 foreigners.About 66,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan.
The prospect of America running a prison on Afghan soil was one of the most contentious obstacles to signing a long term strategic pact between the nations as the forces return home.
On Sunday, Kabul also announced that President Karzai would travel to Qatar ‘within weeks’ to discuss the opening of a Taliban office, possibly as a prelude to talks. The Taliban have so far refused to negotiate directly with the Afghan government.
66,000 The number of US troops that remain in Afghanistan