Taliban's release of British national all came down to 'form of words,' say friends and former colleagues

Taliban's release of British national all came down to 'form of words,' say friends and former colleagues
3 min read
23 June, 2022
The release of British national Peter Jouvenal from Taliban-led Afghanistan all boiled down to a 'form of words,' according to friends and former colleagues who spoke with The New Arab.
Jouvenal was arrested by the Taliban in Kabul six months ago [source: Getty]

The Taliban’s release of Peter Jouvenal, a former BBC cameraman and Afghan expert who has been held in Afghanistan for six months, all came "down to a form of words", friends and former colleagues have told The New Arab

Jouvenal was in Afghanistan visiting friends and conducting business related to mining investments last December when he was detained. He was accused of espionage, a charge his family and friends vehemently deny. 

After months behind bars, eating measly rations and in poor conditions, he was freed on Monday along with four others.

The UK government published a statement marking his release which expressed "regrets" over the "episode" and featured an apology from families of the British nationals held by the Taliban "for any breach of Afghan culture, customs or laws". 

It said: "This was a mistake," given the nationals travelled to Afghanistan against British government advice and were not associated with official UK missions. 

The New Arab spoke to friends and former colleagues of Jouvenal who said no money changed hands to secure his release. This has been confirmed by the UK Foreign Office. 

Instead, friends said, negotiations all hinged on a matter of words. 

Adam Kelliher, a war correspondent who worked alongside Jouvenal, said: "It all came down to a form of words that both sides would agree on... [a matter of] finding what the British government could stomach. A face-saving explanation." 

Just one day before Jouvenal’s release, Hugo Shorter, Chargé d’Affaires at the UK Mission to Afghanistan in Doha, made a statement condemning "activity inciting violence for political purposes" and "terrorist attacks" in the South Asian country. 

"To promote peace and stability, to deliver essential humanitarian support to the Afghan people, and to address shared concerns on security, there is no alternative to engaging pragmatically with the current administration of Afghanistan, and that is what we are doing," the statement read. 

The Taliban seized control of Kabul in the summer 0f 2021, after the withdrawal of foreign troops and a lightning offensive that ousted the western-backed administration. 

Its administration has not been officially recognised by any government.

Ever since, the Taliban have been keen to secure legitimacy, through high-level talks with foreign officials,  on the global stage.

This is despite the collapse of the Afghan economy and systematic rights abuses against Hazara communities and women. 

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David Loyn, also a friend and former colleague of Jouvenal, said in the end the price was "pretty low" to secure Jouvenal’s release. 

Loyn, who liaised with the UK Foreign Office regularly over the last few months, said senior Taliban officials were adamant the British government "could only deliver" what was needed for the cameraman's release. 

In a statement on Monday, a Taliban spokesman said: "Afghanistan is now safe for all. Anyone can come to Afghanistan with confidence for charity work and tourism." 

Loyn noticed that the statement didn't include a comment welcoming foreigners to do business in Afghanistan

A friend told The New Arab words alone were a pretty 'low price' to secure the release of the five nationals

The author and journalist had high praised the foreign office for "working tirelessly" for Jouvenal's release. 

"They played the role they needed to play," he said. 

Kelliher, however, had little praise for the foreign office, saying "it hasn’t been great. It took them a long time to secure his release". 

As of Tuesday, Jouvenal was in Dubai, before being reunited with his family. 

The names of the other detainees have been kept confidential. 

The New Arab has approached the foreign office for comment on the claims made by Jouvenal's colleagues.