When the United States attacked Afghanistan in 2001 and ousted the Taliban government, even the ones who surrendered were regarded as terrorists. They were handcuffed, hooded and shipped to the American detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Now, in a stark turn of events and negation of the long American involvement in Afghanistan, five of those detained Taliban men are sitting across a discussions table along their former captors. These men are a part of the Taliban team debating on the terms of an American troop pull-out.
The five senior Taliban officials were held at Guantánamo for 13 years before they encountered a stroke of luck in 2014. They were swapped for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only known American service member to be held by the rebels as a prisoner of war.
Over recent months, as the American and rebels tried to bring an end to the conflict in Afghanistan, the Taliban leadership made it a point to include the former prisoners. During the recent round of discussions in Doha, Qatar, the five men sat face to face with American diplomats and generals.
One of the former detainees, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa stated that it never struck their mind that they would be sitting with other officials at negotiation table.
During days of slow negotiations during the most recent session, which came to an end on 12th March, the Taliban side was very emotional. Some gave sentimental speeches about how crucial it was that the Americans totally leave Afghanistan in less than six months.
The usual response from the American side, senior envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, was to offer a thorough technical explanation about why pulling out was complicated and would be slow and might take years. Other than Mullah Khairkhwa, the former detainees looked more wary to speak.
Even when they addressed the group, they appeared less harsh or blatant than some of the other Taliban negotiators, possibly matured by years of hardship or wary that their freedom could be weak.
The five former Guantánamo detainees had diverse roles during the Taliban government.
During the introductory speech at the table as negotiations started last month, the five men held up their detention at Guantánamo as the most crucial part of their identity.