Qatar has reportedly secured the release of four Tajik border guards kidnapped by the Afghan Taliban in December. The four men–reported by Asia-Plus in January to be Farhod Kalonov, Mehroj Shodiyev, Siroj Davlatov and Tuychibek Nourboyev–were members of border unit 2610 stationed along the Panj river which forms a majority of the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
The Panj river is wide, meandering, and quite shallow at some points. According to a source in the Border Service, quoted by Eurasianet, the Tajik guards were captured on the Afghan side of the river in Kunduz province, which has seen increased militant activity this year.
A Turkish state press agency reported that Said Sarvar Husaini, spokesman of security chief of Kunduz province, said that the Tajik guards entered Imam Sahib district, north of Kunduz city, without Afghan permission in order to cut trees when militants caught them.
In April, the commander who reportedly ordered the four men to search for firewood across the river was sentenced by a military court to 8.5 years in prison for abuse of power, forgery and illegal logging. The driver who escorted the four was fined.
There were conflicting reports on whether the Afghan Taliban had made any demands–such as ransom or a prisoner exchange–and it is unclear what the conditions Qatar negotiated for their release.
Qatar’s foreign affairs ministry stated in a release Sunday that “Under the directives of HH the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Qatari mediation succeeded in the release of four soldiers from Tajikistan who were captured by Taliban in December on the Northern borders of Afghanistan.”
The Panj district, in Tajikistan, is a notorious link on the drug smuggling chain that stretches from Afghanistan to Russia. In addition, while opium production is at all-time high in Afghanistan, Tajikistan’s net narcotic seizures have declined in the last few years. The drug trade can be incredibly lucrative for some along the border and some analysts speculate that it may have played a role in the kidnapping.
In addition, Tajikistan has become noticeably more nervous about its southern border. While there has been increased militant activity across northern Afghanistan, it is unclear the direct source–some reports point to the Taliban, some to ISIS, some to the IMU, some to all three and other smaller groups, in addition to locals with decidedly local concerns–like logging and the drug trade.
Qatar has served as a middleman with the Taliban for some time–most notoriously in the West for the negotiated exchange of Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban Guantanamo prisoners. And though the larger peace process seems to have made little progress in recent years, many believe that a political reconciliation between the Taliban and the Afghan government is the only route to peace.